Ravens make big mistake by getting rid of Billy Cundiff

Going into season with undrafted rookie at kicker is far too risky

August 26, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

The Billy Cundiff haters — and there are enough in this town to hold several conventions — are celebrating today.

About time the Ravens unloaded that choker, they're saying. Good riddance. Guy cost the Ravens a shot at the Super Bowl. How do you miss a 32-yard chip shot in the AFC championship game? And how do you come back from a disaster like that?

They make Cundiff sound like he was a psychological wreck, like he did five tours of duty in Afghanistan on a bomb disposal squad.

They make it sound as if he's the only kicker to ever miss a big kick, and he'd never recover from it in a million years, no matter how many sports shrinks he saw.

"How will the Ravens ever be able to trust him again?" the haters wailed.

But Cundiff wasn't a basket case at all. He kicked well in training camp and preseason games. Justin Tucker simply kicked a little better. And the Ravens rolled the dice and went with the rookie over the veteran, making the announcement official Sunday.

It's a shocking turn of events for Cundiff, a Pro Bowler two years ago who says he was told last week by John Harbaugh the kicking job was his to lose.

When I heard that, I wrote a blog post that basically applauded the Ravens for leaning toward the veteran.

Oh, my fat little fingers were flying over the keyboard. I said if I were Harbaugh, I wouldn't want to go into the new season with a rookie kicker, either. Not unless he was a can't-miss phenom like a Sebastian Janikowski.

Shows you what I know.

That night, the Ravens let Tucker take all the kicks in that 48-17 wipeout of the Jacksonville Jaguars. And the way Harbaugh hemmed and hawed about the Cundiff-Tucker competition in his post-game remarks, you knew Cundiff was a goner.

He was Dead Kicker Walking, all right.

In the locker room that night, Cundiff wore the look of a man who had seen the handwriting on the wall. And the handwriting was pointing to the exit sign. He could have packed his bags and lined up plane tickets right then and there.

So now the Ravens go into this season of high expectations with an undrafted rookie as their kicker, and maybe it works out and maybe it doesn't.

Sorry, I still don't think it's a good move. Not unless Tucker totally out-performed Cundiff the past few weeks, which he didn't. Especially not when Cundiff didn't even get into the game against the Jaguars, spending three hours instead modeling a cool baseball cap on the sideline.

Here's my other problem with the move. I have this image in my mind: Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, third week in November, wind blowing, 65,000 black-and-gold-wearing maniacs howling into the night, Terrible Towels waving, national TV audience tuned in.

Ravens line up for a field-goal attempt with the game on the line.

Welcome to the NFL, Justin Tucker.

Me, I want a veteran trotting on the field in that situation. No, there's no guarantee Billy Cundiff makes that kick if he's still a Raven. But as I wrote in the blog, everything else being equal, I'll take the veteran over the rookie every time.

Understand, this is no knock on Tucker. He seems like a great kid. The Ravens are impressed with him so far. But kicking in practice and preseason games is a whole lot different from kicking in games when they count — especially big games.

This is the second time in three years that the Ravens have tossed a veteran kicker aside for a rookie, and they sure hope it works out better than the last time.

This was back in 2009, when the great Matt Stover's numbers were off the year before and the Ravens began looking around at other kickers.

Stover was still pretty much Mr. Automatic after 13 seasons with the Ravens. But the Ravens wanted a sexier kicker. They wanted a big leg just like Tucker's.

So they went with Steven Hauschka — an undrafted rookie out of North Carolina State who did mostly kickoffs for the Ravens in 2008 — to start the 2009 season.

This worked out for a grand total of two months.

Then in a November game against the Minnesota Vikings, Hauschka missed a 44-yarder in the waning seconds that would've given the Ravens the win.

The next kicker for the Ravens was Billy Cundiff.

Maybe the rookie gets it right this time.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kevincowherdsun

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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