Setting the stage for grand finale

The Baltimore Sun

As they do every week, Ravens kicker Matt Stover, long snapper Matt Katula and holder Sam Koch got together at practice Friday in Owings Mills for what has become a ritual -- going through the routine of a game-winning field-goal attempt.

"We found an open field and we said, 'Game-winner, Cardinals,' " Katula recalled yesterday.

Practice made for a perfect ending -- again -- for Stover and the Ravens yesterday in their 26-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Though Stover had done it a dozen times before in an 18-year NFL career, seeing his 46-yard attempt sail through the goal posts as time expired was just as exciting as -- and possibly more satisfying than -- doing it for the first time with the Cleveland Browns in 1991.

"If you don't get excited, get out," Stover, 39, said in the locker room after the game. "And it's not getting any easier. You know what to do out there, you know what not to do, and you just trust in the guys around you. That's really what it came down to."

It was Stover's fourth straight field goal of the game -- he had hit from 21 and 28 yards in the first quarter and from 43 yards in the third to give the Ravens a 23-6 lead -- and the 416th of his career. It also was his 11th game-winning field goal in 12 seasons with the Ravens.

"I'm continuing to play football because I feel like I can add and be that guy, 'Give me the ball at the end of the game,' " Stover said. "I still wanted that ball, and I still wanted that kick. Just get me in field-goal range, and really that's what it comes down to."

Asked what it meant that he moved up to fifth overall in field goals made, Stover said, "It's a lot of kicking. It means I'm old. I've been kicking a long time."

While it might seem automatic for the second-most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history (behind Mike Vanderjagt) -- Stover is now over 84 percent and has missed just one of nine field-goal attempts this season -- he knows that something can always go wrong.

"Automatic from 46?" Stover said with a smile. "I don't know. The ball was flying well today. I hit three field goals and it got me in a rhythm. I just felt like the team really had faith in me and you wouldn't believe what that does for you."

Said Ravens coach Brian Billick: "It's the confidence you have to have. Trust the people around you. All we had to do was get to the 30. When Kyle [Boller] came off the field, he said, 'We got to the 30.' He did his job. So did Matt."

If anything, there might have been more pressure on Katula and Koch than on Boller.

"For me, game-winners are different than field goals right before the half. It's like a weird calm," said Katula, in his third season as the team's long snapper. "You've got to dig down deep and say, 'I've done this a million times.' "

Said Koch, who is in his second season with the Ravens and has been a holder since his junior year at Nebraska: "You want to make sure you get it down and at least give him a chance. There is that added pressure. You don't want to make him [Stover] look bad."

It is tough to make Stover look bad. All he wants is the opportunity, even in a situation where overtime might have been problematic for the Ravens.

"Could you change the momentum by missing the field goal? Absolutely," Stover said. "You don't want ever to have that happen. But does that ever come in my mind? No, because I never think I'm going to miss it when I'm out there."

That's where practice comes in. Sometime later this week in Owings Mills, probably Thursday or Friday, Stover will be back on the empty field with Katula and Koch.

One of them is bound to utter the words, "Game-winner, Cleveland Browns."

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