While a great deal of scrutiny centered on what appeared to be Billy Cundiff’s rushed field-goal attempt of 32 yards with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter of the Ravens’ eventual 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC championship game, could the kicker have been the hero earlier?
On the offense’s penultimate drive, the Ravens faced fourth down-and-6 from New England’s 33-yard line. But rather than ask Cundiff to kick a potential game-tying field goal, the offense chose to go for it, which ended with quarterback Joe Flacco being pressured by Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork into throwing the football away.
But upon closer inspection, a Cundiff field goal wasn’t a certainty.
From the 33, Cundiff would have been lining up for at least a 50-yarder. And he had converted just 1-of-6 opportunities from beyond 50 yards this season and 5-of-19 from that distance for his career.
Without citing those numbers, coach John Harbaugh suggested that going for the first down was a risky option, but a better one.
“We just felt like from a percentage standpoint, we probably had a better chance of getting the first down,” he said in his post-game comments. “We were throwing the ball well there. That’s a long field goal. It’s a tough field goal down there, under those conditions on a cold day like this, so we liked our chances there to convert on fourth down.”
Flacco said another factor was that even if the fourth-down attempt was unsuccessful, the feeling was that there was enough time on the clock for the offense to get another shot.
“If you get it, you get a chance to get a touchdown,” he said. “If not, you get closer for a field goal a couple downs later. I think we played it right. We didn’t score, we didn’t get it, but we did get the ball back and had a great opportunity at the end.”