Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (6) points skyward after making… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
Kickers Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker are not only on opposite ends of the spectrums in their careers, but their paths with the Ravens appear headed in different directions, too.
In perhaps an indication of rising sentiment within the organization, Tucker, an undrafted rookie — not Cundiff, the incumbent — played the entire 48-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.
Tucker made all six extra points and both of his field-goal attempts, connecting on a 33-yarder in the first quarter and a 53-yarder in the second. Meanwhile, Cundiff watched from the sideline while wearing a white Ravens ballcap.
After the game, Cundiff expressed "shock" when informed Wednesday night by the coaches of the plan to give Tucker all the kicks.
"I'm a competitor," Cundiff said. "Anybody who would be OK with not playing — and there are situations where guys are beat up and want to rest — anytime you feel like you're not getting reps, your competitive side comes out, and you feel like you want to be the one out there kicking."
Asked about the development, coach John Harbaugh first offered that the coaches wanted to see an unproven Tucker could do.
"I think we know Billy," Harbaugh said. "Billy would have come in here and made every one of those kicks, and when we kicked it deep, he would have kicked every one out of the back of the end zone. Billy's proven that. Tuck has not proven it. This is something that he needed. We needed to see if he could handle the whole game from beginning to end and have that pressure on him. Obviously, he handled it very well."
When pressed whether there was anything to read into the decision, Harbaugh replied: "We'll see. We have to make some decisions here next week, and we'll have to see how it goes."
For his part, Tucker declined to assume anything about his playing time.
"I don't really read anything into that," he said. "All I can say is that I'm bringing my lunch pail to work. I come to work every day and try to get better every day, and all of that stuff will take care of itself in the end. I'm just happy to have the opportunity and happy to have kicked well."
Still, it would be difficult to blame Tucker, 22, for looking ahead. His presence and Cundiff's absence were significant because the third game of the preseason is generally considered the one when the starters get their most work. And rather than rotate on each kick or split halves, the Ravens elected to have Tucker, an undrafted free agent from the Texas, take every field goal, extra point and kickoff against the Jaguars.
If Tucker has assumed the lead — and he would be the first rookie in franchise history to open the regular season as the team's primary kicker —parting ways with Cundiff would be somewhat surprising; he has played eight seasons in the NFL and earned a Pro Bowl invitation in 2010. That season helped persuade the organization to reward Cundiff with a five-year, $15 million contract.
But Cundiff's success rate of 75.7 percent on field goals in 2011 was the third-worst of his career and his lowest since 2005, when he played in just six games for the Dallas Cowboys. Cundiff, who is 2-for-2 in preseason contests, made 83.8 percent (88 of 105) of his kicks in practice, while Tucker has converted 93.2 percent (96 of 103).
In the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in January's AFC championship game in Foxborough, Mass., Cundiff hooked the potential game-tying field goal left from 32 yards with 15 seconds remaining.
While several fans still cling to that memory, Cundiff, 32, said he has steeled himself for every possibility.
"I feel like I've been through enough," he said. "There's not a single thing that somebody could throw out at me that I'm not prepared for. My confidence has been high. I know when I came into training camp, a lot of people asked me where my head was at and kind of questioning whether I'd be able to kick. I feel like I've proved continually throughout training camp that I came in prepared. And regardless of what's been thrown at me and what the situation is, I'm ready to kick."