Your Monday Reality Check: This is just plain awkward at this point

August 20, 2012 | Glenn Clark

I probably don’t need to jog your memory much to think back to October 18, 2009. The game was at Mall of America Field (you may know it better as the MetroDome) in Minneapolis. After trailing 27-10 in the 4th quarter, the Baltimore Ravens stormed back to take a 31-30 lead. After some coverage “issues” from CB Frank Walker, the Vikes drove into field goal range and re-took a 33-31 advantage.

The only video I could find with documentation of how the final drive played out for Joe Flacco and company is below. It was shot from a fan’s camera in the Dome and perhaps doesn’t quite do it justice.

Flacco directed the offense down the field in just 1:54, leaving them on the Vikings’ 26 yard line with two seconds to play. After being iced by a timeout, then Ravens K Steve Hauschka never straightened out a 44 yard field goal try from the right hash, missing badly. The loss didn’t necessarily crush the team (a 10-6 record would have still left them as a Wild Card due to their 0-2 record against the Cincinnati Bengals), but the miss did immediately pave the way for the team to make a change at the position.

There is not a direct parallel between the team’s 2009 kicking competition and the competition the Ravens are currently holding between incumbent Billy Cundiff and rookie Justin Tucker. In ’09, the team had already decided to part ways with future Ring of Honor and former Super Bowl champion K Matt Stover before the season (he would ultimately end up kicking for the Indianapolis Colts later in the season and missing a crucial 51 yard try in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XLIV).

Instead, the competition in ’09 was between Hauschka and rookie Graham Gano. The team had decided to go into the season without a veteran kicker, meaning they were always going to put themselves in a position where a big kick would have to be attempted by a player with no previous experience. After missing the kick in the Twin Cities, Hauschka was replaced by Cundiff. Cundiff would go on to Pro Bowl status in 2010 before a late 32 yard miss in the 2012 AFC Championship Game left him out of favor with Charm City fans.

It’s worth noting that when I asked John Harbaugh directly about whether or not the team was looking at competition for Cundiff at this past February’s NFL Scouting Combine, the Ravens’ head coach told me (without dancing around the question) a simple “no”. Multiple sources close to the organization told me throughout the offseason the team did not bring in the rookie from Texas to actually “compete” with Cundiff, but just to help inspire the veteran to bounce back from a rough 2011 season.

Cundiff remained defiant about the situation after the second preseason game, telling “if I kick well, this is my job” even as Tucker drilled a 50 yard attempt. (Both kickers went 2/2 in FG tries against the Lions.)

It was hard to expect the situation to get this awkward.

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. joe of bel air Says:

    Glenn; you are absolutely right. The Ravens never wanted any real competition for Billy Vanderjagt. That’s why they brought in Tucker instead of signing Neil Rackers or another veteran kicker. They thought Tucker would push Billy Vanderjagt just enough to keep him sharp but never expected him to win the job. I also agree about your comment aboyut them bypassing a 57 yard fg against Detroit as they did the previous week against Atlanta when they could have tried a 55 yarder, but elected to punt instead. I agree that they didn’t try those kicks with Cundiff because they were afraid he would miss and they were afraid to try it with Tucker because they were afraid he would hit both. Trouble is Tucker has outperformed him and if Harbaugh keeps Cundiff after telling everyone the best player will win the job, he will run the risk of losing this team as soon a Cundiff misses a makeable kick. With Billy it is not only the makeable kicks he misses, its the fact that Harbaugh doesn’t even try some longer kicks because he has no confidence in him. Remember the second Steelers’ game in December 2010. We are losing 13-10 with 30 seconds left in the game. It’s 4th and 2 on the Steelers 31 and Harbaugh elects to go for it instead of sending Billy Vanderjagt in for the fg. Enough said.

  2. Paul in Crofton Says:

    I read something last week that Cundiff’s FG% during camp has been around 83%, while Tucker’s is around 94%. That sounds pretty substantial to me.

    Like others have said, if the Ravens don’t keep Tucker, we’ll be watching him kick field goals for another team this season. Sure, he’s a rookie, but he kicked in the Big 12 for Texas, so he’s played in front of substantial crowds in meaningful games. The Ravens already missed out on Ryan Succop a few years back when they assumed he’d be an undrafted rookie, and the Chiefs took him at the end of the draft. Keeping Tucker could make up for that.

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