Richardson gives woes the boot


Punter seems to be back in usual postseason form

January 19, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Forget the blocked punt that broke open the loss at Tampa Bay and the troubles he had fielding the center's snap in the season finale.

Like the rest of the Ravens, punter Kyle Richardson found his mojo in time for the playoffs.

Richardson stumbled into the postseason. The Buccaneers' go-ahead points Dec. 29 came on a short field goal that followed a block of Richardson's attempted punt.

With Joe Maese injured and unable to execute his blocking assignments, Dale Hellestrae was signed as a substitute long snapper. Richardson had to eat one snap that bounced his way against the Minnesota Vikings, when he had his second-worst average of the season, 32.3 yards.

Not to worry. Richardson banged four punts for a 45.5 average in the wild-card win over Miami, his best since September, when Denver's altitude got him to 48.3. His performance at Miami extended his strong postseason play.

In Super Bowl XXXV, he punted 10 times for a 43.0 average. Richardson was the X-factor in the AFC championship win at Oakland, where four of his seven punts were downed inside the 20 and dictated poor field position for the Raiders.

Two of Richardson's punts were blocked in the AFC divisional playoff at Tennessee last season, but he still had some strong punts in that game. And he was one of the reasons Denver crossed midfield just once in last season's wild-card win.

"It's a heightened sense of urgency," said Richardson, who was asked if specialists can ratchet up their intensity. "That goes through every player. Your senses are heightened, because you could be done for the year. You're playing for your life, another game. Everything is important, and everyone has to do their part."

Brown not kicking himself

You might remember Pittsburgh's Kris Brown, whose four missed field-goal attempts paved the way for a Ravens victory at Heinz Field in November, but the kicker doesn't expect bad memories to be on his mind when he faces the Ravens tomorrow.

"It wouldn't have mattered who we played that day, so this game has no bearing on what happened that day," Brown said. "That was two months ago, and it's a new season, so I'm going to do whatever it takes to win a game."

Brown's woes at Heinz Field weren't confined to that game, but then again, woes at Heinz Field aren't the sole province of Brown, who has made only 14 of 24 kicks in home games as opposed to 16-for-20 on the road.

Though the Ravens' Matt Stover made both of his kicks in Pittsburgh, visiting kickers have gone 3-for-9, a statistic credited to bad footing at the new stadium, as well as tricky winds at one end.

"If you look at statistics," Brown said, "it does present some challenges, and the good thing about being able to kick there for a full season is that I've been able to figure out what the wind does and what challenges it presents."

Super Central

This will be the third straight year that two teams from the AFC Central have played each other in the playoffs. If the past two years have been any indication, the winner of tomorrow's game goes to the Super Bowl.

Tennessee defeated Jacksonville in the AFC title game two years ago, and the Ravens beat the Titans before moving on to win the Super Bowl last season.

Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said that the division's rough-and-tumble style - featuring stingy defenses - prepares its teams for the playoffs.

"In this division, you're battle-tested," Cowher said. "There are a lot of great defenses, and you have to survive that. You grow as an offense because of that, and as a defense you learn that you're going to be in close football games because the defenses are so good."

End zone

Partly sunny skies with seasonable highs in the mid-30s are predicted tomorrow. The National Weather Service is forecasting 1 to 3 inches of snow today, but it shouldn't be a factor because Heinz Field's grass surface is covered and heated. ... Left guard Edwin Mulitalo practiced yesterday and is expected to start. He was still listed as questionable after straining his right hamstring in Wednesday's walkthrough. ... Always superstitious, the Ravens, who have won their past three meetings in Pittsburgh, will stay at the same downtown Pittsburgh hotel as the past three years.

Sun staff writers Christian Ewell and Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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