Billy Cundiff expected worse after the AFC championship game.
The Ravens kicker pushed a 32-yard field goal attempt wide left against the New England Patriots with 15 seconds remaining Jan. 22. A converted kick would have tied the game at 23, likely forcing overtime. Instead the Ravens were handed a 23-20 loss, and Cundiff was faced with a long offseason of questioning. But so far, Cundiff has dealt with very little of that.
"It's been impressive," Cundiff said Sunday at Drake University, his alma mater. "I expected more backlash."
The miss against the Patriots had Cundiff expecting the worst from teammates. Instead, he says he's received nothing but support.
"I've had a lot of guys that kept telling me, 'Look, I've made mistakes.' Obviously, everyone sees my mistakes," he said. "That's just the way it goes."
Cundiff, who was honored Sunday with a Drake Double D Award, which is given to Bulldogs letter winners for achievements in their chosen profession, received some of his strongest support from Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
"[He] said, 'Look, the only two guys that anybody can ever really judge and that everyone truly does not understand are the quarterback and the kicker,'" Cundiff said. "'Everybody thinks they can play better than the quarterback and think they can kick better than the kicker. The pressure on those two positions is the most unique of any position in the NFL. Nobody will truly understand what those two positions go through, but they'll be the most highly critiqued. You just have to keep that in perspective.'"
Cundiff, an Iowa native, came to Drake as a walk-on basketball player before also joining the football team. In high school, he was a quarterback who rarely kicked. At Drake, he watched videos and changed his routine. He finished his college career as Drake's record holder for points (284), field goals (49-for-79), and extra points (137-for-151).
"Everything just kind of happened," he said. "I like to tell people that my parents kind of groomed me to be a basketball player, but God made me a kicker. ... I was so raw. I was so unfinished by the time I got to be a senior, I still had a long ways to go."
The 2010 season brought a breakthrough for Cundiff, who earned his first Pro Bowl selection.
Cundiff hasn't returned to Baltimore since his miss against the Patriots, but he said he's using the kick as a life lesson.
"I've had a lot of those experiences in my time at Dallas [Cowboys] where I missed some big kicks, but I also came back and made some big kicks," he said. "As you start to get older, you start to realize that if you can grow, then it was a worthwhile experience. A very tough pill to shallow, but I think it's something that makes you better."