ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Jason Hanson rarely, if ever, practices punting anymore.
But there he was Sunday afternoon, stepping in as the Detroit Lions’ emergency punter, and proving yet again why he’s one of the NFL’s consummate professionals.
“I wasn’t comfortable at all,” Hanson said of the added responsibility. “I was glad just to catch the ball and get it off, at least get out of the way.
“It wasn’t good by NFL standards, but it was good by old-kicker-haven’t-punted-in-a-long-time standards.”
Hanson averaged 39.3 yards on three punts in the Lions’ 44-41 overtime loss at Tennessee after taking over for Ben Graham, who suffered a calf injury late in the first quarter.
It was the first time Hanson had punted in a game since 2003. He has now averaged 35.6 yards on 15 career punts.
“They say it’s like riding a bike … but it’s not,” Hanson said.
Hanson said he used to work on his punting, just in case, a lot more when he was younger.
But he’s 42 years old now, in his 21st season in the league, and he mostly sticks to his kicking routine during practices.
“It seems like every time one guy tries to do the other guy’s job, he gets hurt,” Hanson said. “I think they’ve been afraid to have me do it.
“I’ve punted the ball out of my hand … kicking a ball back to Ben or something. But live, with the team and catching the snap, it’s been a while. It’s completely different.”
Coach Jim Schwartz doesn’t plan to enter a game with Hanson as his top punter. If Graham isn’t ready, the Lions likely will sign another punter, possibly Nick Harris, before facing Minnesota on Sunday at Ford Field.
But if they’re ever desperate again, Hanson showed he can get the job done in a dual role.
Hanson continues to kick field goals as if he were in the prime of his career. He is 10-for-11 in three games, including four field goals each of the last two weeks.
They haven’t all been chip-shots either. Four of his field goals have been from 45 yards or longer, including a 53-yarder against Tennessee.
With 13 games remaining, Hanson is nearly one-third of the way to his career high for field goals in a season. He made 34 in 1993.
Hanson’s 90.9-percent accuracy is also well above his career mark of 82.1 percent. He’s made more than 90 percent in a season only twice in his career — 95.7 percent in 2003 (22-of-23) and 95.5 percent in 2008 (21-of-22).
The only negative on his performance Sunday was on kickoffs. The Titans had a 105-yard return for a touchdown, just after the Lions had taken the lead in the fourth quarter.
Hanson blamed it all on himself, even though his kick went well into the end zone.
“I hit that ball basically opposite of where it was supposed to be, and it was low,” he said. “So it just killed us. It couldn’t have been a worse kick for the situation.
“It was right into what they (the Titans) had planned. It was just a jailbreak. It was just awful.”
Hanson shook his head. He couldn’t understand why he was driving the ball so well on field-goal attempts all day, but not on kickoffs.
Perhaps those additional punting duties took a toll on the old veteran in the end.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THAT
One of linebacker Stephen Tulloch’s two personal-foul penalties Sunday was for unnecessary roughness when he retaliated after Titans offensive guard Leroy Harris tried to take out his knees after the whistle.
What surprised Tulloch the most is that he was teammates with Harris both in college (North Carolina State) and in the pros (Tennessee).
“I’ve known Leroy probably 10-plus years,” Tulloch said. “For him, of all people, to come at me like that.
“It’s football. There’s no friends on the field when you play. I understand that. But you keep them between the whistle. There’s no place in football for that after the whistle.”
Tulloch said he was reacting and trying to protect himself, but he realizes the Lions can’t continue to take those types of costly penalties.
Harris wasn’t penalized for the initial hit. As often happens, the official only called the retaliation.
Tulloch also was charged with a helmet-to-helmet hit in overtime that helped set up the winning field goal.
“I can’t have personal fouls, we can’t have penalties,” he said. “We’ve got to eliminate the mistakes.
“It’s about us not hurting ourselves and beating ourselves. We spoke about it last year. Some of it’s carried over to this year. It’s time to put that behind us.”