Five Ravens going to Pro Bowl, but Cundiff stands out

December 28, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

Billy Cundiff's curious NFL odyssey took him to eight teams and through countless trials before he arrived in Baltimore in November, 2009. A year later, Cundiff's destination includes coveted hot spots like Hawaii and the playoffs.

Cundiff was one of five Ravens named to the AFC's 2010 Pro Bowl team on Tuesday, another high-water mark in a fast-rising career as an emerging kicking star.

He is joined on the all-star team by perennial Pro Bowl selectees Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, as well as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs. Lewis, the team's iconic middle linebacker, has been named to the Pro Bowl in 12 of his 15 seasons. Reed's selection was his seventh in nine years.

"I am humbled, as this is such a great honor," Cundiff said in a statement released by the team. "This is the result of having great teammates and coaches surrounding you. The rapport that Sam [Koch, his holder] and Morgan [Cox, the snapper] and I developed during training camp was invaluable this season. I worked my butt off to prove to our coaches that they made the right choice and hopefully this gives them a little gratification."

Cundiff's ascension from a journeyman kicker to Pro Bowl player — seemingly overnight — was clearly the highlight of the Ravens' Pro Bowl announcement. Cundiff, 30, is anything but an overnight success, though.

After spending most of four seasons in Dallas, Cundiff was cut by the Cowboys in 2005. Thus began a vagabond existence in which he went more than two full seasons without attempting a regular-season field goal in the NFL.

He not only made good when the Ravens gave him a chance in 2009, but he beat out an established kicker in Shayne Graham in training camp last summer.

This season Cundiff capitalized like few kickers ever have. He has converted 24 of 27 field goals, including the 38-yard kick that beat the Buffalo Bills in overtime in October, and scored a career-high 110 points through 15 games.

Perhaps more significantly was the impact he made in field position. Cundiff hammered 38 touchbacks this year to lead the NFL (Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski is second with a distant 29). He already holds the single-season record for touchbacks outdoors with 32. If he hits two in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, he will tie Mitch Berger's 1998 record of 40 touchbacks from the 30-yard line. The league moved kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30 in 1994.

"This is a testament to Billy's hard work and determination," said Jerry Rosburg, special teams coordinator. "Billy has shown incredible perseverance throughout his career and he has always remained dedicated to becoming a great kicker in the NFL. I believe that the other players in this league not only respect what he has done, but also how he has done it. He never lost faith in himself, and he continued to improve. He is richly deserving of this honor, as is his wife, Nicole, who has been tremendously supportive."

Cundiff, Lewis, Ngata and Reed all are scheduled to start in the Pro Bowl game on Jan. 30 in Honolulu, a week before the Super Bowl in Dallas. Votes were compiled from coaches, players and fans.

"Wow, no. 12 feels like No. 1," Lewis said in a statement. "Every year is a different year, and you prepare each offseason for one year at a time. I tell my teammates that I am going to train to be a Pro Bowl player that season, and my focus paid off again this season.

"This never gets old. This is the greatest honor ever, because this is from the fans, the coaches and your peers. You can never take anything for granted, and I never take this for granted. I am blessed with great teammates and I wouldn't be here without them. I feel this is a team award."

Suggs will go to Hawaii as a backup. This will be his fourth Pro Bowl — each in even-numbered years: 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010. He needs one sack Sunday to match his career high of 12, set as a rookie in 2003. He has 7.5 sacks in the last eight games.

"This is awesome," Suggs said. "The only thing that would be better than this is a Super Bowl. It has been a long few years and to come back and be recognized by your peers is amazing. This is something you can't do by yourself; it takes a unit. I have to thank my teammates, especially the defense — and particularly Haloti — for pushing me to do the little extra things when I didn't want to."

Thirteen Ravens were recognized in the Pro Bowl announcement. Koch, whose 37 punts inside the 20 ranks second in the NFL this season, is a first alternate along with left guard Ben Grubbs and fullback Le'Ron McClain.

Third alternates were quarterback Joe Flacco and left tackle Michael Oher. Fourth alternates included running back Ray Rice, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Dawan Landry.

If the Ravens were to make the Super Bowl, none of these players would compete in the Pro Bowl.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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