This Monday, Ravens fans are trying to distance themselves from the reality of the last-second loss to the Charlie Batch-led Pittsburgh Steelers.
Many issues arise from not only last night’s game, but also the losses to the Eagles and Texans as well as the near-disasters in San Diego and Kansas City. Cam Cameron is, of course, taking the brunt of the criticism as running back Ray Rice has turned from an all-purpose threat to an every-other-down back who misses entire offensive possessions. It has become so bad that even beloved head coach John Harbaugh is receiving criticism.
Others area of concerns are results of injuries, as the Ravens are adequately finding ways to stifle the opponents’ deep and outside passing game despite playing without their two starting corner backs — Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb –, but struggling to defended passes over the middle of the field with Ray Lewis sidelined with a triceps injury.
The kicking game, arguably, has been the strongest point for the 9-3 Ravens. Fans are wholeheartedly behind rookie kicker Justin Tucker as he has hit 24 of 26 attempted field goals, including five from more than 50 yards and a few under high pressure. If 2012 were a season void of budding-superstar rookie quarterbacks like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Tucker could be a possible Rookie of the Year candidate as he has tremendously affected the Ravens’ record with his 23-year old foot.
Tucker’s game-winning kick against the Patriots as well as his game-tier and winner in San Diego have given Ravens fans a renewed sense of security in their kicking game after former kicker Billy Cundiff’s disastrous kick in the waning seconds of last year’s AFC Championship game that sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
Along with last night’s Steelers loss and Cundiff’s AFC Championship miss, Ravens fans have also, through the foot of Justin Tucker, suppressed the feelings they had towards Billy Cundiff prior to his shortcomings: the same feelings they now have toward Justin Tucker.
Let’s not forget the 2009 season when Steven Hauschka won the starting kicker job out of camp and quickly had Ravens fans pulling out their hair. Haushka attempted 13 kicks during his 2009 campaign, missing four, including a 44-yard attempt in the domed Mall of America Field in Minnesota as time expired, handing the Vikings the victory. Hauschka was replaced two weeks after missing another field goal against the Cincinnati Bengals that would have trimmed a ten-point deficit to seven late in the fourth quarter.
Cundiff, of course, replaced Hauschka and played so well that Ravens fans quickly forget about the failings of their former kicker. Despite missing a field goal late in the third quarter that ultimately proved to be the difference, Cundiff welcomed himself to Baltimore by making five of six field goals against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts.
From his mid-season Ravens debut in 2009 until 2011, Cundiff made 66 of 83 field goals (6 of the 17 misses being from beyond 50 yards) for the purple and black including game-tying and winning field goals against the Steelers in 2009, a game winner against the Cardinals in 2011, and multiple clutch field goals in fourth quarters that distanced the Ravens from their opponents.
Outside of the scoring game, Cundiff’s world-class kickoffs, coupled with Sam Koch’s premier punting, made the Ravens one of the best special teams squads in the NFL. Tying the NFL record for touchbacks with 40, Cundiff earned himself All-Pro honors as well as a standing ovation at the Ravens’ last game of the 2010 season:
The Cundiff-love did not turn into hatred until the missed field goal that would have sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl.
All kickers should come with warning labels — the most reliable can become the catalyst for the team’s shortcomings in matter of waning seconds in a fourth quarter.
Justin Tucker deserves the praise; his veteran poise in his rookie season during high pressure situations has restored confidence in the kicking game in Baltimore; making himself the 2012 version of 2009 Billy Cundiff.
But, if a kick sails wide off the foot of Justin Tucker in a crucial moment of a playoff game, what will be his treatment? Will his astounding rookie year performance be suppressed along with the All-Pro accomplishments of Billy Cundiff?