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The Secret Star Of The Tennessee Titans: Their Punter

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Of the four teams left in the NFL playoffs, the Tennessee Titans are the biggest surprise. They're one win away from the Super Bowl. Credit goes to a top running back and a player who hasn't scored a single point. WPLN's Jason Moon Wilkins has his story.

JASON MOON WILKINS, BYLINE: The Titans' Brett Kern knows most people don't really get excited when the punter takes the field. He jokes his job is to let fans know when it's OK to get up and go to the fridge. But when his foot connects with the ball, it is impressive.

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BRETT KERN: All right. The boom. Wow.

WILKINS: That's Kern showing off for aspiring punters at a camp in Nashville. One of Kern's more recent kicks, broadcast on CBS, essentially sealed a huge win against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: And Kern gets a line-drive punt away that's bounding to a halt at the 1 - perfection.

KERN: That's pretty close to kind of having a game-winning field goal without scoring any points.

WILKINS: It wasn't just one big kick in the playoffs; Kern has been big for the Titans all season. Now, usually, a busy year for the punter is not good news for any team. If you're punting a lot, it means you're not scoring very much. And when you go looking for punting stats on the NFL's website - you've got to scroll all the way down to the bottom - sometimes you find a surprise.

Did you know that you have more total yards than your running back, Derrick Henry, and your quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, combined in the playoffs?

KERN: Yeah. Those are punt yards. Yeah, I think in my career, I've punted for, you know, eight or nine miles' worth of punting.

WILKINS: Kern did some cellphone math after that and figured out his kicks have actually traveled more than 23 miles. This season, he's put a lot on the odometer, earning nearly every punting honor there is.

GORDON MCGUINNESS: Right now he is right at the top. In terms of our grades, he's a country mile ahead of any other punter in the NFL this year.

WILKINS: That's Gordon McGuinness of the data company Pro Football Focus. He says when it comes to Kern's impact, it's a simple formula - booming punts force the opponent to go more yards, and that often equals costly mistakes. That's what Kern hopes his foot will do again on Sunday, when the Titans take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

For NPR News, I'm Jason Moon Wilkins in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.