Ravens kicker Justin Tucker can't escape Billy Cundiff's miss

Rookie connected on 30 of 33 field goals in regular season, but last year's AFC championship still fresh in everyone's mind

January 16, 2013|Kevin Cowherd

In this town, it remains a sepia-toned nightmare: Billy Cundiff's 32-yard field-goal attempt in the chill of Gillette Stadium drifting left, left, left — so far left you thought it would smack one of the cheerleaders.

Cundiff has never recovered from that miss in last year's AFC championship, the one that left the Ravens in stunned disbelief and the New England Patriots headed to the Super Bowl with a 23-20 win.

Funny thing is, Justin Tucker can't get away from that miss, either.

When Cundiff blew that field-goal attempt, Tucker was a skinny kicker with mournful, cocker spaniel eyes who had just wrapped up his senior season at Texas.

The Longhorns were coming off a 21-10 win over California in the Holiday Bowl and Tucker was hanging around campus, lifting weights and keeping his leg loose. He doesn't even remember where he watched the Ravens-Patriots game on TV.

But now that he's the Ravens' sensational rookie kicker and his team is getting ready to play the Patriots in the AFC championship again Sunday, everyone wants to know if Tucker has heard the long, sad tale of Billy Cundiff.

And by inference, what they're also asking is: you're not going to choke like Cundiff did, are you?

"My response has always been the same — what's in the past, is in the past," Tucker said Wednesday before practice. "Anything that's happened in the past year, two years, five years, 10 years, or just the last several weeks, it's all null and void now. Because we have a singular task at hand — beat New England."

Look, I'd give the same kind of non-answer if I were Tucker, who is having a terrific season and shouldn't have to answer any more questions about Cundiff, the guy he beat out in training camp.

Full disclosure (again): I took to the keyboard in high dudgeon after the Ravens cut Cundiff.

Oh, my little sausage-like fingers were smoking as I wrote that the Ravens made a big mistake by cutting an experienced veteran for a rookie free agent.

Some mistake.

Cundiff, a good man, took his thousand-yard stare and went to kick for the Washington Redskins before washing out and signing with the San Francisco 49ers, serving as a backup plan as David Akers struggled.

And Tucker? All the kid did was show a powerful leg and the nerves of a jewel thief from the start.

All he did was connect on 30 of 33 field goals for the second-best regular-season mark in Ravens history and the second-best by a rookie kicker in NFL history.

All he did was kick a game-winning 27-yard attempt as time expired in the Ravens' 31-30 win over the Patriots in September, then nail another game-winning 38-yard try in a 16-13 overtime win over the San Diego Chargers in November.

Then last weekend, in the AFC divisional playoff against the Denver Broncos, all he did was make the biggest kick of his life on a chewed-up field, in below-zero wind chill, with half the country watching.

That was the 47-yard field goal in the second overtime that gave the Ravens a 38-35 win and left a howling Sports Authority Field quiet as a chapel as Baltimore exploded in celebration.

When a TV guy asked him yesterday if he still felt like a rookie after the long, great ride he has been on this season, Tucker smiled wearily.

"I kind of did away with that whole rookie notion when I got here, just because I had to come in and compete against a guy who had a lot of successes and was a fully vested veteran guy," he said. "So I could never afford to perform like a rookie or think like one. If I ever let myself think like that, I'd be doing everyone in this building a disservice."

So that's why Justin Tucker looks you in the eye and tells you he's confident he can do the job Sunday in Gillette Stadium, no matter what the game throws at him.

He says he and holder Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox are locked in as a unit, and that when it comes to big kicks in big games, you push everything out of your head except the mechanics of your job.

"[Ravens special teams coach] Jerry Rosburg probably said it best: you think about the action, not the consequence," Tucker said. "That's all we do. Every day at practice, we go out there and follow our same routine."

There's another reason not to think about the consequences: they can be too painful.

Billy Cundiff isn't the only kicker in the league who knows that.



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

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