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The Ravens can put their trust in rookie kicker Justin Tucker when it matters most.
It didn't take long for Baltimore to warm up to Justin Tucker. Honestly, all it took was him convincing the Ravens to cut ties with Billy Cundiff, who many fans feel the Ravens should have made their immediate scapegoat after their heart-breaking loss in the AFC championship game. Cundiff's missed chip shot ended one of the toughest losses in franchise history, and it further rattled the confidence of a fan base that was still longing for Matt Stover even though he was 44 and a couple of years into retirement. But then Tucker started making kicks, showing the general public what all of us handsome media types saw in training camp. He boomed four field goals from beyond 50 yards. He gave everyone a scare while doing it, but he kicked the game-winner to beat the New England Patriots in Week 3. The rookie free agent has been perfect from inside of 40 yards and he has made 19 of 21 field-goal attempts.
The last of those field-goal attempts came in the final two minutes of overtime Sunday. After the Ravens put together a thrilling comeback -- punctuated by a Tucker field goal -- in the fourth quarter, the Ravens and their hosts, the San Diego Chargers, provided plenty of drama in a tense overtime session. The players would tell you it had a playoff-type atmosphere, with the Chargers fighting for their season and the Ravens battling three teams for the top seed in the AFC. But when the television cameras cut to a close-up of Tucker on the sideline, the Texas native looked to be at ease. Tucker boomed footballs into a net, then played hacky-sack with a football for a second or two. Moments later, he casually drilled the game-winning kick.
It will take more clutch kicks down the stretch and in the postseason -- and many more in the years to come -- for the rookie to be viewed with similar reverence to Stover. But it's clear the Ravens have a keeper in Tucker, someone they feel will rise to the occasion should their season rest on his right foot.
December 16, 2012