OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In a season in which the Ravens have stumbled offensively far too often, they’ve leaned on Justin Tucker to provide points and to even win games on several occasions.
The second-year kicker was recognized by the local media as the team’s 2013 Most Valuable Player, becoming the first special-teams performer to win the award since it was introduced in 2003. The highlight for Tucker’s 2013 campaign came in Week 15 in Detroit when he booted six field goals and a franchise-record 61-yarder in the final minute to give the Ravens an 18-16 victory.
For the season, Tucker is 35-for-38 and can eclipse Matt Stover’s team record for field goals in a season with one in Cincinnati on Sunday. His remarkable streak of 33 consecutive field goals without a miss came to an end on Sunday when he misfired from 37 yards, leaving him three field goals shy of Stover’s franchise record.
Tucker has already become one of the NFL’s best kickers in just his second year after being signed as a free agent from the University of Texas in the spring of 2012 and beating out incumbent Billy Cundiff for the job. As a rookie, he went 30-for-33 and made the game-winning 47-yard field goal in double overtime in the Ravens’ divisional round win over Denver.
“He’s a year older, he’s a year better, [and] he’s a year ahead in terms of technique and perfecting his craft and all those kinds of things,” coach John Harbaugh said earlier in December. “But there are still a lot of things he needs to work on. He’d be the first to tell you that. There are a lot of kicks he doesn’t have in his tool bag yet. But the main kick he’s got in his tool bag is kicking it straight when it’s a field goal — in all kinds of conditions — and that’s a pretty important one.”
The selection of a specialist as the team MVP is a reflection of the lack of a great candidate this season as the Ravens have gone 8-7, but Tucker’s 15 field goals over the recent four-game winning streak — the Ravens scored only five touchdowns during the stretch — and four games in which he kicked four or more field goals are too difficult to overlook in assessing his value. Of Baltimore’s eight wins this year, four have come by a field goal or less and Tucker connected on a field goal from at least 46 yards in each of those victories.
He also has made six field goals from 50 yards or more this season.
Tucker was the winner over four other finalists: quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Jimmy Smith, linebacker Daryl Smith, and wide receiver Torrey Smith. Those four have played well for stretches of the season, but it would be difficult to argue that any showed the same level of consistency as Tucker, who missed two field goal tries in Week 2 and didn’t miss again until Sunday’s attempt sailed wide left in the 41-7 loss to New England.
In addition to awarding Tucker the team MVP, the local media tabbed Flacco as the annual Good Guy Award winner, which is given to the player considered to be most cooperative with reporters during the season. Flacco’s blunt honesty, which hasn’t always been received well by outsiders and those within the organization, has been refreshing for reporters throughout the season.
Considering he is one of the biggest stars on the team, the quarterback has remained approachable in the locker room in addition to his weekly podium session and is usually willing to answer a quick question or to simply chat casually with reporters.
Torrey Smith, tight end Ed Dickson, defensive end Chris Canty, and safety James Ihedigbo were the other candidates nominated for the Media Good Guy award.
Harbaugh admits fourth-quarter mistake
In what was just one of several questionable coaching decisions over the course of a miserable 41-7 defeat to New England on Sunday, Harbaugh sent Tucker into the game early in the fourth quarter for a 37-yard field goal try with the Ravens trailing 20-0.
Tucker missed the attempt, but the Ravens didn’t stand to benefit much from the conversion as they still would have trailed by three possessions with 14:19 remaining. Asked about it following the game, Harbaugh erroneously suggested that the kick would have created a two-score deficit and then admitted he wanted to revisit the game situation.
Asked again when he met with the media for his Monday press conference, Harbaugh wished he had a mulligan for the fourth-quarter situation.
“If I had to do that one again, I would have gone for that,” Harbaugh said. “I’d have gone for all four of [fourth-down situations], looking back on it. We had just gone for the one previous to that that was on the 4-yard line with a foot to go [late in the third quarter]. Obviously, this is fourth-and-five on the 20-yard line. It’s a little bit different and, during the flow of the game, I think I felt differently about it at the time. Looking back on it, I would agree with anybody that feels like we should have gone for it.”
The Ravens were 0-for-3 on fourth-down attempts in the second half.
It was apparent to observers that Flacco’s left knee injury impacted his play in some way during a two-interception performance against New England.
Harbaugh acknowledged that reality by connecting it to the big picture of few players being fully healthy after the first 15 games of the regular season. Flacco wore a bulky brace on his left knee and struggled to move comfortably in the pocket, especially in the first half, after he was diagnosed with a mild medial collateral ligament last week.
“I can’t think of one player who is 100 percent who has played,” Harbaugh said. “Joe has played every single play the whole season. He’s definitely not 100 percent on that knee. But to say how much or to what degree is just impossible to say. I think he fought through it, he gutted it out, he battled, and that’s what you do this time of year. And that’s what makes Joe who he is. He’s a tough, hard-nosed competitor. We appreciate that about him.”
The head coach did not address any other injuries specifically, only stating that no player has been ruled out for Sunday’s regular-season finale in which the Ravens need a win and a loss by either Miami or San Diego to secure the No. 6 seed in the AFC.
Defensive tackle Arthur Jones sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss, but the Ravens did not officially report any other injuries following the game. Linebacker Daryl Smith (heel) and wide receiver Marlon Brown (hip) both missed time with injuries but returned to the game.