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Ravens' Cundiff eager to attempt high-pressure kicks

Like any player in his position, Billy Cundiff won't say he can make every kick. But the Ravens kicker willingly accepts the chance to do so.

"Yeah, I think you have to," Cundiff said Wednesday about the desire to kick a game-winning field goal. "If you don't have the attitude that you want to make the game-winning kick, then you're probably in the wrong business."

Cundiff's eagerness is a welcome sign to the Ravens, who were beginning to wonder whether last year's AFC representative in the Pro Bowl would be able to overcome a nagging left calf injury. But after Cundiff followed a week of rest with a 42-yard field goal, three extra points and two touchbacks in Sunday's 24-16 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, the club's confidence in the eight-year veteran is on the rise again.

In fact, Cundiff's showing persuaded the team Tuesday to jettison Shayne Graham, who had made both field-goal attempts in a 20-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 24.

"It was big, it was big for all of us," coach John Harbaugh said of Cundiff. "It was big to see him be able to do that. The way he pounded the ball through, we all felt good about that. Obviously, the kickoffs [were important] as well, so he looks like he's 100 percent."

News of Cundiff's ailment surfaced Dec. 8, when he did not participate in practice. Four days earlier, he had missed two of three field-goal tries in a 24-10 victory over the Browns.

Cundiff, who would make just one of two field-goal attempts in his next two games, said the calf injury made it difficult for him to plant his leg and generate the power he was accustomed to on field-goal tries and kickoffs. The pain also affected his stability.

"It was just tough not knowing if it would hold up," he said of his leg. "Not being able to be aggressive definitely stems from not knowing if it's going to hold up. Then not really having the power to pull when I plant, that affects [his] being aggressive. So for me to be able to actually get through a game and do the things I'm supposed to do, I've got to be able to have that strength, and that's obviously what I did not have."

Cundiff said the tipping point occurred after he opened the second half against the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 18 with a kickoff that resulted in a touchback. Cundiff converted an extra point and attempted an onside kick in the fourth quarter but acknowledged that trying to connect on a long field goal or record another touchback would have been a challenge.

"That's the reason why we decided to take a week off," said Cundiff, who sat out the rematch with the Browns on Christmas Eve. "I think the thing I wanted to prove was, 'Look, I'm going to try to play injured.' But if it's going to affect my performance, then I need to step down and do the right thing because I'm not doing the team any favors by playing hurt if I'm not performing at the level that I should."

Cundiff said he is still trying to regain the strength that he had in his left calf but the soreness is a thing of the past. Punter Sam Koch, who is the holder on Cundiff's field goals, said he could discern the difference a week of rest made for the kicker.

"When he was hurt, you could tell that he was kind of maybe saving it, like he didn't know how well it was going to react to everything," Koch said. "I don't see that as an issue now. Just from listening to the ball as it comes off, I know he had said that he had felt it more coming off the kickoffs rather than the field goals and stuff like that. So when he gets through the ball, it sounded solid. It sounded just the way it was supposed to."

Cundiff, who has missed a career-worst nine field-goal attempts this season, said dealing with the calf has been a learning experience. But the most important thing is that he's healthy in time for the Ravens' playoff run — and a potential game-winning scenario.

"For me, I've always wanted that kick," he said. "It's something I've always looked forward to. When I was out of football for two years, those situations are what I missed the most. I'd watch a game and then see somebody kick the game-winning field goal, and a little part of me would be jealous because I would wish that was me. So when you get into the playoffs — and it's this way even in the regular season — you want the game to come down to you, and you want to be able to be the difference. Granted, everybody would love to win by 21, but if it is a close game, I know that I want to be the one to put it away."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Vensel contributed to this article.

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