OWINGS MILLS - There's a chance Sunday's AFC championship game comes down to a field goal.
Fans who root for the Ravens and Patriots have come to expect such a situation. Their teams' last two meetings were decided by a combined four points, both outcomes decided by a kick.
To the Ravens' everlasting dismay, Billy Cundiff missed a field goal at New England in last year's AFC title game, dashing Baltimore's Super Bowl hopes.
But Justin Tucker made his in Week 3 to beat the Patriots - just as he did last Saturday to lift the Ravens over the Broncos 38-35 in double overtime.
The rookie said he's ready if called upon to make another big kick this week.
"We have a routine that we follow," said Tucker, who has formed a tight bond with long snapper Morgan Cox and punter Sam Koch, his holder. "As long as we do what we know and do what we trust, we have such great relationships in this locker room. I think we'll always have a chance to be successful as long as we're sticking together like that."
Tucker has been perfect on two postseason field goals after making 30 of 33 during the regular season, with a long of 56 yards. His 132 points were third-most in a regular season in team history.
Perhaps most important were his three game-winning kicks.
The first came Sept. 23 at home against New England, a 27-yarder that Tucker sneaked through the uprights as Baltimore won 31-30.
The second one beat San Diego on the road, 16-13, in the famous "fourth-and-29" game, when Tucker booted a 38-yarder in overtime (having already tied the game as time expired in regulation with a 38-yard field goal).
And Tucker did it again last Saturday, connecting on a 47-yarder in frigid Denver to end the game and allow the Ravens to move on.
Tucker carries an air of confidence with him these days. And it's rubbing off on his teammates.
"This year," said defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, "I've never been nervous about Justin Tucker kicking a field goal."
Cox and Koch, Tucker's kicking cohorts, agreed that the trio's bond has helped their routine become almost an afterthought. Cox brings back a near-perfect spiral every time, Koch and Tucker said. Koch has no problems setting things up for Tucker, who swings his powerful right leg from there.
They said they've practiced it enough times, going through almost every conceivable scenario, to be ready for pressure situations.
"Tucker's got great confidence," Koch said. "I've got great confidence in him, the entire team does."
In last year's AFC title game, the Ravens rushed their field-goal unit onto the field in the waning seconds only to have Cundiff miss a 32-yarder wide left that would have tied the game. Baltimore appeared to take the lead with 30 seconds to go when quarterback Joe Flacco found receiver Lee Evans in the end zone, but Evans had the ball stripped from his hands.
Cundiff came out two plays later with overtime as the back-up plan. Instead, the Ravens went home.
At about that time, Tucker was lifting weights and kicking to keep himself busy. His college career had ended a few weeks earlier after he helped Texas beat Cal in the Holiday Bowl.
He went undrafted in the spring, but hooked on with the Ravens and won a training camp competition with Cundiff.
He's one of the reasons why the Ravens are just one win away from making their second Super Bowl appearance, and he's not worried about what happened a year ago in Foxborough, Mass.
"What's in the past is in the past," he said. "We have a pretty clear task ahead of us. Anything that's happened in the past ... that's all null and void now because we just have a singular task at hand - beat New England."
The Ravens have a road playoff win against the Patriots on their resume (a wild-card victory in 2010), but New England is 7-2 all-time against Baltimore. The games have been close in recent history, emphasizing a kicker's performance that much more.
Tucker doesn't seem to have a rookie mindset when it comes to being called upon to make big kicks.
"This is why we play the game, is to be in big moments like this, to be in championship games, to be able to share these moments with all the people that have been on the journey," Tucker said. "To be on TV and be in the national spotlight, especially for a kicker ... I'm on my own little island out there with Morgan and Sam.
"So whenever we get the chance to go out and do our thing in front of so many people, it's just fun."