All three of the Ravens’ victories in 2015 have come on a Justin Tucker field goal on the final play of the game, but the fourth-year kicker wasn’t all that happy after Sunday’s 16-13 win over St. Louis.
Despite making the game-winning 47-yarder as time expired, Tucker missed two kicks from 51 yards earlier in the day with the second coming with just 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. The misses continued a concerning trend for the 2013 Pro Bowl kicker on attempts from 50 or more yards where he has gone just 2-for-7 this season.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this upset or mad after hitting a game-winner,” Tucker said on Sunday, “but this is kind of uncharted territory for me — and Morgan [Cox] and Sam [Koch] — all of us together. To be able to bounce back like that though, it’s definitely satisfying.”
To be clear, Tucker’s struggles are relative to the many kicking issues we’ve witnessed around the NFL. The 26-year-old has failed only once inside 50 yards all year, which was a 45-yard miss when he stepped into a large divot with his plant foot at Levi’s Stadium against San Francisco in Week 6.
Simply put, Tucker is still one of only a few kickers around the NFL who you want lining up for a huge kick late in a close game. However, his six misses in 10 games — he’s 22-for-28 in 2015 — have already surpassed his total in any of his first three full seasons in Baltimore.
Many have pointed to a declining success rate from 50 yards and beyond since his rookie season when he was a perfect 4-for-4. There was no significant drop-off during his Pro Bowl campaign in 2013 when he was 6-for-7 from 50-plus, including a game-winning 61-yarder at Detroit on Monday Night Football.
In 2014, Tucker was just 4-for-9 from 50 yards or longer, but all five of those misses came from 54 or longer, a reflection of the Ravens’ confidence in allowing him to try kicks from greater distances. The University of Texas product still went 3-for-3 on kicks from 50-53 yards, making those overall numbers less concerning.
Entering a contract year in 2015, Tucker has misfired on five tries from 50 or greater. But unlike last season, he hasn’t attempted most of those from exaggerated distances and is just 2-for-6 on tries from 50-53 yards.
How does head coach John Harbaugh — a longtime special teams coordinator in Philadelphia — explain Tucker’s two misses from 51 yards against the Rams in Week 11?
“There’s the hold, there’s the snap, the whole thing goes together,” said Harbaugh, who has shared his thoughts with Tucker. “There’s the wind. There’s the footing. All those things are a factor, no question, but the swing mechanics are the main thing. It’s not hard to see when the swing mechanics aren’t what we would be looking for or what he would be looking for. To my eye, that’s what happened in the game [Sunday].”
After Sunday’s game, Tucker acknowledged the challenges of kicking at M&T Bank Stadium where the open corners of the upper deck can lead to swirling winds. The kicker said he didn’t hit the first attempt well, but the second miss from 51 was struck “right on the screws” before it “just leaked” due to the wind.
Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, Tucker is expected to seek a contract that would make him one of the highest-paid kickers — if not the highest paid — in the NFL. If the sides cannot agree to a deal in a timely fashion, the Ravens could use the franchise tag as the franchise tender at the kicker position was a reasonable $4.126 million in 2015 and wouldn’t increase dramatically next year.
Even if he’s been more erratic from beyond 50 yards since his remarkable Pro Bowl season, Tucker remains one of the best kickers in the NFL, making it unlikely that the Ravens would allow him to depart after the season. But it’s clear he has a high standard for himself that he hasn’t quite reached in 2015.
“I’ve been doing this long enough now to know at our stadium, I’ve just got to hit [what] we like to call a ‘Dawg Pound’ ball like we’re kicking into the ‘Dawg Pound’ in Cleveland,” said Tucker, alluding to the difficult conditions in FirstEnergy Stadium late in the season. “It’s a slightly different ball that you’ve got to hit. You just get it up over the line and make sure it goes straight. That’s basically what I’ve got to do moving forward, regardless of the distance of the kick.”