During his month-long competition with Billy Cundiff for a job that nobody expected him to win, Justin Tucker held firm to advice that Ravens coach John Harbaugh repeated throughout training camp.
"One of the things Harbs is always telling me is, 'Put it straight and give it a chance,'" Tucker said Monday. "That's really as simple as it can get. … That's what I would tell myself when I would go hit a ball in a preseason game or even just out here at practice every single day. I guess the thing that I've done well is just keep it simple and put it through."
Tucker, an undrafted rookie out of Texas who officially won the kicking job on Sunday when the Ravens terminated Cundiff's contract, said that he spent all of "a minute" celebrating the news.
In his first full practice Monday as the Ravens' undisputed kicker, Tucker connected on field-goal attempts from 61 and 63 yards, displaying the strength and accuracy that was evident throughout training camp. Tucker made 96 of 103 field goals (93.2 percent) in training camp and went 5-for-5 in games, including hitting a 53-yarder against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Cundiff, 32, who is now a free agent, made 88-of-105 of his attempts (83.8 percent) during training camp and was 2-for-2 in preseason games.
"The decision is based on the fact that it's what we think is best for our team," Harbaugh said. "We think going forward — in the long term — it's going to be best, and we also think [that] in the short term. Billy kicked very well, and I've said it many times, that he's a great person, he's a heck of a kicker. He's a huge part of what we accomplished here the last 21/2 years, and he'll always be remembered for that … But the change is made, and we're moving onto Justin. He's earned it by the way he kicked in camp. He won the competition, and that's why he's the kicker."
Cundiff was cut more than seven months after he hooked a 32-yard field goal wide left in the waning moments of the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. Harbaugh said that while Tucker's age and preseason performance influenced the team's decision, Cundiff's decisive miss in late January did not.
"We brought Billy back," Harbaugh said. "If it had been, he wouldn't have been back. We had confidence. Billy kicked well. Billy could very easily be the kicker here. He'll definitely be the kicker somewhere else. He had probably his best camp that he's ever had so he deserves a lot of credit."
During the competition, Tucker and Cundiff had minimal interaction, and Cundiff even told reporters at one point that he really wasn't paying much attention to how the rookie was performing. Tucker said Monday that he hadn't spoken to Cundiff since the roster decision was made, but he did credit the veteran.
"He made sure this was a really, really good competition. He pushed me every single day," Tucker said. "But I really do appreciate the front office and the coaching staff putting their faith in me. I will do everything I can to bring my lunch pail to work every day, and I know that sounds cliché. I've said it probably a hundred times before, but that's really the attitude that everybody has around here."
At Texas, Tucker was 40-of-48 for his career, but none of his misses came in the fourth quarter. Last November, he beat rival Texas A&M with a 40-yarder as time expired in the Longhorns' 27-25 victory. Always the perfectionist, Tucker liked the end result, but found fault with his execution.
"Going back and looking at it on film, I probably left it a couple of yards shorter of where I would usually want to hit it," he said. "Even on one of the biggest kicks in my career, I'm trying to find a way to get better. That's something that is really emphasized around here."
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