Ravens kicker Steve Hauschka knows his NFL job is hanging by a thread after he missed two crucial kicks during the past three weeks, including a potential game-winner Oct. 18 against the Minnesota Vikings.
Fans are clamoring for his head, especially after the veteran he replaced, Matt Stover, has been perfect for the Indianapolis Colts since signing with them Oct. 14.
And Ravens coaches tried out two kickers this week but so far have not signed one.
As of now, Hauschka says the job is still his to lose. And he said the onus is on him to prove his standing to coaches and teammates.
"I definitely think I need to earn back the confidence of the organization," the second-year kicker said Wednesday. "They still want me to be the guy, but I still have to go out there and make kicks. That's my job, and if I'm not doing my job, they're obviously going to have to go somewhere else."
The club appeared to take a step in that direction Tuesday, bringing in former NFL kickers Mike Nugent and Billy Cundiff for tryouts. Nugent - a second-round 2005 draft pick of the New York Jets who has converted 78.6 percent of his field-goal attempts in a five-year career - worked out for the team for the second time in three weeks.
Coach John Harbaugh, who was not made available to the media Wednesday, said on his weekly radio show Tuesday night that the team still has faith in its young kicker.
"He's made kicks. He made three kicks against Denver," Harbaugh said. "I thought the toughest kick he had was coming back after the miss in Minnesota after two weeks off, making the [43-yard] kick against Denver and in front of our crowd. Everyone was holding their breath. To me, that was a real pressure kick, and he kicked it really well. It's about repeating that swing, that good swing all the time and really in the most important situations, being able to repeat that under pressure. He's really got a lot of talent, and he works really hard at it. He's our best option."
Stover said Wednesday from Indianapolis that he knows what Hauschka is going through and wants him to succeed.
"I wish Steve Hauschka and the Baltimore Ravens nothing but the best. I know the kicking position is a pressure job. The organization knows that [statement] is heartfelt," said Stover, who will return to Baltimore to face the Ravens on Nov. 22.
Hauschka's 38-yard field-goal try that sailed left of the uprights in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 17-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was not the sole reason for the setback, but it was the second time in three games he missed a pressure kick.
With the team reeling after dropping four of its past five games, players and coaches have engaged in a great deal of introspection. Hauschka has spent a similar amount of time reviewing his kicks on game film, and he thinks the corrections that need to be made are minor.
He said he understood the team's decision to bring in potential replacements.
"I figured they probably would," Hauschka said. "That's not my job. They're going to do what they have to do, and I'm going to do my job, which is to go out there and make kicks in the game."
Hauschka has made eight of 11 field goals in his first season as the Ravens' full-time kicker, including converting three in a decisive 30-7 victory over the previously unbeaten Denver Broncos.
But he has had two crucial misses - at Minnesota and Cincinnati. Hauschka's 44-yard attempt against the Vikings went wide left from the left hash marks, as did his 38-yard miss against the Bengals.
Harbaugh acknowledged after the Vikings game that he knew criticism would fall on the young kicker until he delivers in a pressure situation. During the offseason, the Ravens chose not to re-sign Stover, saying they wanted to free a roster spot and preferred the younger Hauschka's stronger leg.
Harbaugh gave Hauschka a vote of confidence two weeks ago after the missed kick in Minnesota. But this week, the coach would say only that he was disappointed in the missed kick in Cincinnati and that Hauschka was going to be a "good kicker in the NFL."
Hauschka still has the support of teammates, many of whom have shared words of wisdom or advice. Punter Sam Koch, who is Hauschka's holder, said the kicker's demeanor and routine have not changed since Sunday.
"Honestly, I think he's doing the same he was before," Koch said. "It's more about just going out there and trusting yourself that you can go out there and make the kick. He knows he can make that kick. We do it many times here. We practice it time after time. Right now, he's trying to get over that last kick, which is always hard for kickers and punters. I think he's going to be fine."
In a perfect world, Hauschka would be perfect on his field goals, winning the support of Ravens fans. However, this being an imperfect world, Hauschka senses an ugly mood among fans who have been burning up Internet message boards and talk-radio phone lines, criticizing the franchise's decision to not re-sign Stover, who is 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts and 8-for-8 on extra-point tries with the Colts.
"I wish it didn't happen this early in my career, but it was going to happen inevitably," Hauschka said of being the target of scrutiny. "I'm just learning. This is part of the process. It's painful at times, but it's going to make me a better kicker."
Wednesday was the first day of that process, and by all accounts, Hauschka had a good practice. Parlaying that effort into making pressure kicks in games, however, is the real test.
"That's part of the next development I have to make - kick the ball in the game with just as much confidence," he said. "So that's something I'm working on this week."
Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.
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