Steve Hauschka, Monday night is big for you. It might be the biggest night in your two years as a Ravens kicker.

Let's come right out and say it: Your NFL career is on the line.


Miss another big kick against the Cleveland Browns and you could be headed home on the first plane out of BWI-Marshall on Tuesday.

I see in the Ravens media guide you're thinking about a career in medicine when your football days are over.


Well, blow another big kick and you might as well fill out the papers for med school when you get back to the locker room.

Oh, I know none of this is exactly news to you. You've been living with this kind of pressure all week.

And you've been a stand-up guy in taking responsibility for how you've let the team down.

You also know Ravens fans have been pounding on you on sports-talk radio and Internet message boards.

They're saying you're scared. They're saying you have a deer-in-the-headlights look when you line up for a big kick.

Like that 44-yard attempt to win the game that you hooked in that 33-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings a few weeks ago.

And the 38-yarder you missed wide left in the fourth quarter in that 17-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday, a miss that seemed to take all the fight out of the Ravens just when the offense was clicking again.

The fans are also saying the Ravens brain-locked in not signing Mr. Automatic, Matt Stover, and keeping you instead.


Now you know how Doug DeCinces felt when he took over at third base for the Orioles when the sainted Brooks Robinson retired.

And please tell me you've heard of Doug DeCinces. And especially Brooksie. I feel older than Franklin Delano Roosevelt as it is.

The point is, you need to go out tomorrow night, and if the opportunity presents itself, make a big kick and silence your critics.

You need to show people that you're a capable NFL kicker who doesn't spit the bit with the game on the line.

But it won't be easy, Steve.

You'll have to do it on a big stage. "Monday Night Football" is still the center of the NFL universe during the regular season. And everyone and his grandmother still tunes in for these games, not to mention Hank Williams Jr. and all his rowdy friends.


Look, it was during a Monday night game that Howard Cosell broke the news to the whole country that former Beatle John Lennon was dead, murdered in front of his apartment building in New York City by some nut case.

It was during a Monday night game that New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor sacked Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann and snapped his leg like a pretzel.

And it was during a Monday night game that Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre took the field one day after his dad died and threw for four touchdowns in the first half of an eventual 41-7 pounding of the Oakland Raiders.

That's another thing about "Monday Night Football," Steve.

Some players rise to the occasion and turn in memorable performances.

But some get a lump in their throat the size of a medicine ball and freeze.


"You definitely feel the energy and you get excited," your teammate, linebacker Jarret Johnson, said of MNF. "And you can feed off that excitement to play better. Or you can stand around and stare at the lights and fireworks and get hit in the mouth."

That's the last thing you need, Steve Hauschka.

You've already been smacked in the mouth - at least figuratively - by the way this town has reacted to your two big misses.

From all reports, you've been working hard on your technique in practice. Your coaches say you've looked great.

But kicking in practice and kicking with the game on the line and 65,000 fans screaming to the heavens are two different things.

It's what elementary school is to Harvard.


But if the Ravens do wave you onto the field for a big kick tomorrow, know this: Everyone in Baltimore will be rooting for you.

Your coaches will be rooting for you. Your teammates will be rooting for you. And every Ravens fan I know will be rooting for you.

But they'll all be holding their breath, too.

You need to prove you can do this, Steve.

Good luck. And hit 'em straight.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.