To the Atlanta Falcons' benefit, Jason Elam has just gotten better with age.
The Falcons roster doesn't have much playoff experience, but that certainly isn't the case with their kicker. The 38-year-old Brookwood graduate brings more than just experience into today's game at Arizona, though.
Elam finished the regular season as the NFL's second most accurate field-goal kicker at 93.5 percent, making 29 of 31 attempts in his first year back home with the Falcons.
As good as Elam was in his 15 stellar seasons with Denver, he was never quite this good. His most accurate season with the Broncos was in 2006, when he was 27-for-29 - 93.1 percent.
There were certainly many reasons for the Falcons' turnaround from 4-12 to 11-5. But Elam's contribution can't be ignored.
"I don't have quite the distance I did when I was younger," Elam said late in the season. "But I really think that I'm as good or better otherwise."
Elam shares the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal in 1998, but his percentage that season was 85.2 (23 of 27). This year he booted the 38th field goal of at least 50 yards in his career and stretched his record streak of never scoring less than 100 points to 16 seasons.
But best of all, Elam is back in the playoffs after winning two Super Bowls with the Broncos and making the postseason eight times.
"This has been an exciting season to be a part of," Elam said. "This is a tight group and we've accomplished a lot together. And we're not through yet."
The best may be yet to come for Elam, who thrives on pressure. He has always been at his most clutch with the most on the line.
Elam is 15-for-18 in field-goal attempts in 14 career playoff games. His 51-yarder is the second longest in Super Bowl history.
Elam, whose 34-yarder in overtime beat Tampa Bay 13-10 on Dec. 14 and kept Atlanta's playoff hopes alive, didn't have quite as many late-game heroics this season as he did a few years with the Broncos. But he supplied the clutch kick in what may have been the game that changed the Falcons' season.
Elam, redeeming himself for an earlier miss, booted a 48-yarder as time expired to give Atlanta a 22-20 victory over the Chicago Bears on Oct. 12. His two late-game winners this season gives him 23 for his career.
The former Hawaii kicker had five field goals - tying a personal best - against the Bears, his miss breaking a stunning streak of 30 consecutive successful kicks dating back to 2007 with Denver.
Elam's only other miss came at Oakland on Nov. 2 in a lopsided victory and he finished the regular season with a streak of 12 straight field goals after booting a 39-yarder against St. Louis.
Elam made all 42 of his extra-point attempts and finished the regular season with 129 total points - sixth best in the NFL this season and the second best in Falcons history. The only regular kicker to finish better than Elam in field-goal accuracy was Detroit's Jason Hanson, who was 21-for-22 for the winless Lions while kicking with little or no pressure.
There will be a lot on the line today for Elam and Arizona kicker Neil Rackers, who also had a good season. Rackers was 25-for-28 and his 89.3 percent was seventh in the NFL.
A third trip to the Super Bowl this season in his first year with his hometown Falcons remains a long shot. But at least Atlanta is in the postseason party - something that few would have believed going into the season.
"I don't think we're as surprised as other people are," Elam said recently. "I knew that we had a chance to be a good team. But a lot of things have come together and it has been a lot of fun."
SideBar: Elam working on third book
Jason Elam's career in the NFL may be heading toward its end. But the Brookwood graduate is just getting started as an author.
The Atlanta Falcons kicker had his second novel published during the season and is already working on a third.
Elam's novels, written with Steve Yohn, are action thrillers that combine his dual passions - faith and football. The first is entitled "Monday Night Jihad" and the second "Blown Coverage."
In both books, the hero is a former Air Force special operations combatant turned NFL standout. Instead of being a kicker like Elam, Riley Covington plays a more fitting position. He is a hard-hitting linebacker.
- Guy Curtright