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Kicker Daniel Carlson a big factor in Raiders' playoff hopes as he trusts in the Lord's plans

Despite a trying season, the Las Vegas Raiders are on the brink of clinching a playoff spot. Kicker Daniel Carlson has proven to be a major reason why.

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Carlson was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week this week for the third time this season, after a performance that helped lead the Raiders to a 23-20 road win over the Indianapolis Colts and keep their playoff hopes alive.

He converted all three field-goal attempts — from 47, 44 and 33 yards — and made both of his extra-point attempts. His 33-yard field goal with time expiring sealed the win for the Raiders.

“Great work by the team getting me in position,” Carlson told the media following Sunday’s game. “The defense fighting all game, it was a huge win for us, obviously. Excited for what’s ahead — big one next week.”

The win gave the Raiders their third in a row, and with a win over the Los Angeles Chargers or a Colts loss on Sunday, they’ll clinch a playoff spot. The Chargers can also get in the playoffs with a win over the Raiders.

For Carlson, it was the fifth time in his young career that he’d been named Player of the Week, giving him the second-most by a Raiders kicker, trailing only Sebastian Janikowski (seven). He joins Janikowski (2011) as the only Raider kickers to earn the honor three times in one season.

Now in his fourth year in the NFL, Carlson has settled into a career in football, which isn’t what he always envisioned. He grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where soccer was his first love. He credits his football career to God.

In 2009, while a student at The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, a coach approached him at church and asked if he’d be interested in kicking some footballs for a change. Carlson obliged.

“Playing soccer was what I had always dreamed of,” he told the Colorado Springs Gazette in 2018. “But by my junior year (at TCA), I had fallen in love with football. God had the better plan.

“Time and time again, I think I’m fine pursuing my own plans. But then everything completely changes, and I see that God’s plan is so much better than anything I could have ever dreamed up.”

Throughout high school, Carlson continued to star on the soccer field, leading his team to the state final three times. He was also setting records on the football field, and after standing out as the top-rated kicker in the United States at the Kohl’s Kicking Academy Underclassmen Challenge, college coaches started to take notice.

He committed to Auburn, where he became the all-time leading scorer in Southeastern Conference football history, a three-time second-team All-American, a three-time first-team All-SEC selection, and a two-time SEC Special Teams Player of the Week winner.

Off the field, he took the foundation of faith his parents instilled in him and made it even firmer.

“They taught me what they believed,” Carlson told the Gazette. “They taught me how to act. They gave me a good foundation. Now it was time to make this my own.”

That faith has helped him persevere through the adversity of his career — like missing an overtime field goal in his first season at Auburn that gave Wisconsin the win in the 2015 Outback Bowl, and getting cut by the Minnesota Vikings after only two games as a rookie in 2018. Minnesota traded two draft picks to move up into the fifth round of that year’s draft to select Carlson with the 167th pick, making him the highest-drafted kicker in team history. He won a training camp battle with veteran kicker Kai Forbath, but then in Week 2 of the regular season, he missed three field goals — two in overtime, the last one from 35 yards out as time expired — in a 29-29 tie against the Green Bay Packers.

Carlson was signed by the Raiders a month later, appeared in his first game for them in Week 8, and only missed one field goal the rest of the season. He made 19 of 26 field goals in 2019, 33 of 35 in 2020 (fourth in the NFL in field goals made), and is tied for the league lead in field goals made this season (35 of 38) heading into Week 18. The Raiders awarded him with a multi-year contract last month.

This season, Carlson has been the definition of clutch for the Raiders with four game-winning field goals. Sunday’s game against the Chargers, and a playoff spot, could rest on his foot.

“It’s been an exciting season. A lot of close games,” Carlson said on Sunday. “That’s how the league is supposed to be. Huge team win. It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win and win with a last-second kick again.”

Don’t expect the pressure to get to him, though — he knows Who plans his ways. He lives by the words of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Carlson has that verse listed on both his Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Win or lose, he hopes people see Jesus through him.

“It is such a cool, surreal experience to look back on all that God has given me,” he told the Gazette. “Playing is my form of worship. It is how I glorify Him. And all of this is so much better than I ever expected.”

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