One of the toughest regular season losses in recent Giants history took place last November 27th in Seattle. In a Week 12 battle in which the winner would have the inside trace to the NFC’s number one seed, the Giants went into Qwest Field and thoroughly outplayed the Seahawks. They amassed 490 yards to Seattle’s 355, and with the game on the line, they were repeatedly able to stifle the Seahawks on defense and move the ball into a position to score on offense. On numerous occasions, it appeared certain that victory was at hand.

But Jay Feely’s choke-job for the ages rendered the effort moot. He missed consecutive field goals of 40, 54, and 45, each of which would have won the game for the Giants and sent them home in the driver’s seat in the NFC. His teammates said all the right things afterwards about how football is a team sport, and that how no one man can single-handedly win or lose a game. But in this case, those platitudes rang hollow. So horrendous was Feely’s performance that it was parodied six days later on Saturday Night Live, immortalized as an all-time gagger.

The loss went a long way toward knocking the Giants out of a first-round bye, which itself went a long way toward making the end of the Giants season a bitter disappointment. Had they had that first-round bye, perhaps they would have gotten some of their linebackers back and healthy. Perhaps Eli would have gotten a chance to sort out his mechanics. Perhaps Plaxico would have gotten a chance to recharge his batteries. Perhaps Coughlin and Hufnagel would have had more time to prepare for a Panther defense that was single-mindedly committed to stopping the run.

Whatever would have happened if the Giants had a first-round bye, the result surely would have been better than that dismal 23-0 loss.

And Jay Feely’s performance in Seattle was to blame. A game like that, one would think, would make for a pretty bad season all by itself.

But in Feely’s case, that one game diverted attention away from what was actually one of the best years of any kicker in the NFL, and one of the best seasons by a Giant kicker in recent memory.

Feely connected on 83% of his field goals, compared to the league average of 80.9%, and drilled all of his extra points. More impressively, he hit 8 of 10 field goals from 40-49 yards and 3 of 5 from over 50. All this despite playing his home games in the tricky conditions of the Meadowlands – Pro Football Prospectus’ measurements say that Feely kicked in the most difficult conditions of any kicker last year.

With his field goals alone, Pro Football Prospectus calculates that Feely contributed 7.0 points more than the league average, placing him fifth in the league and ahead of such notables as Adam Vinatieri and Mike Vanderjagt, as well as 25 other kickers. Yes, Giants fans: judging by field goals alone, we had one of the very best kickers in the league last year.

His numbers on kickoffs, the other component of a kicker’s job, aren’t too shabby either. He averaged 63.4 yards per kickoff, tied for eighth in the league, and boomed 12 touchbacks to finish sixth in that category. All told, Feely contributed 2.6 points more than league average with his kickoffs (based on a footballoutsiders statistic that translates yards of field position into points, based on the average next score that an NFL offense gets from that point in the field). Combining field goals and kickoffs, Feely contributed 9.7 points more than the league average, finishing as the fifth best kicker in the NFL.

Going into this year, it’s hard to know what to expect. Feely’s accuracy rate of 83.3% last year was the highest it had ever been – his career percentage is 78.7%, which is slightly below league average. And after a blistering first half in which he only missed only one field goal, he came back to earth in the second half by hitting only 18 out of 24 attempts for a 75% rate. To his credit though, he rebounded from an awful November by drilling 12 out of his 14 December attempts, including all three from 40-49 yards out. His kickoffs have always been excellent, and should continue to be. At 30 years old, he can be expected to continue at his present level for the foreseeable future.

Of course, a performance like his in Seattle is bound to have a scarring effect on a fan-base – seeing somebody melt down like Feely doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But if we can give him a mulligan on that day and credit him for bouncing back strong, we should realize that we have one of the better kickers in the NFL, and if he is as accurate as he was last year, one of the very best.