Five days before Matt Stover returns to M&T; Bank Stadium, the Ravens acknowledged Tuesday they failed in their first attempt to replace him, cutting struggling kicker Steve Hauschka.
Hauschka said he was "a little surprised" by his release, which came less than 24 hours after he missed a 36-yard field goal and had an extra point blocked in a 16-0 win at Cleveland.
"At this time, we need better," coach John Harbaugh said on his weekly radio show. "We needed to make a change."
In his first season as an NFL placekicker, Hauschka couldn't rebound mentally, Harbaugh said. The tailspin - missing three of his final seven kicks - began when he hooked a 44-yarder that would have won the Oct. 18 game at Minnesota as time expired.
Hauschka ranked 26th in the NFL this season with a 69.2 percent conversion rate and made only one of three attempts in the fourth quarter.
"I'm definitely disappointed," Hauschka told The Baltimore Sun about a half-hour after the team made the announcement. "I appreciate the opportunity that they gave me here. I wish I had done better with a couple of the kicks there. But I don't have any regrets. I'm just going to keep playing and working hard, and I think I'll be on a team sooner or later."
Not re-signing Stover, the only place-kicker in the team's history, will likely mark the first misstep in the Harbaugh era.
The Ravens decided not to replace Stover, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, because they wanted a younger kicker who could also kick off (which allowed the Ravens to use only one roster spot on a kicker).
Stover, now with the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, declined to comment on Hauschka's release. He has often referred to Hauschka as "a friend."
Harbaugh expressed some regret Tuesday in not bringing back Stover, who had been a free agent for seven months before filling in for the injured Adam Vinatieri.
"It just didn't work out for both parties," Harbaugh said. "We said all along that if we could bring him back at a certain time, we were going to try to do it. For the last four weeks, he's been in Indianapolis. We're doing the best we can with the kicking situation with the circumstances that we kind of faced at the end of last year."
Harbaugh said the Ravens wouldn't try out any additional kickers, which means the decision will likely come down to Nugent and Cundiff.
Nugent, who has worked out for the Ravens twice this season, is considered to have more talent, but he's a high-risk, high-reward option. He missed four of his first six tries (two blocked) in four games with Tampa Bay before being released last month.
Cundiff is considered the safer pick, since he converted all six of his field-goal attempts while filling in for the injured Phil Dawson in Cleveland.
"While we do believe Steve will kick successfully in the league eventually, we need better right now," general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement.
The Ravens talked to Nugent in the offseason about competing with Hauschka, but he decided to sign with Tampa Bay. The team also thought about signing Ryan Succop after the draft, but he was taken with the last pick by Kansas City.
That led to Hauschka, the Ravens' kickoff specialist last season, beating out undrafted rookie Graham Gano in training camp.
Hauschka had converted five of his first six field-goal attempts in the regular season before missing the game-winning kick in Minnesota. Two games later, he hooked a 38-yard attempt that could have cut the Ravens' fourth-quarter deficit to a touchdown in a 17-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
His performance Monday apparently sealed his fate. Even though he hit a 44-yard field goal in the third quarter, Hauschka missed a 36-yarder in the first quarter and later had his low point-after kick blocked.
All four of Hauschka's field-goal misses came from the left hash mark.
Hauschka met Tuesday with Harbaugh, Newsome and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg before leaving Ravens headquarters.
Harbaugh "said he still saw confidence in me and told me that I could be a kicker in this league and to keep working hard," Hauschka told The Baltimore Sun. "It's painful, some of these things that you have to go through as a kicker to get experience, but I understand that the organization needs to do what it needs to do to win. I wish they had kept me around, but I understand."
Harbaugh described it as "ironic" that the Ravens cut Hauschka only a few days before the reunion with Stover, saying, "Right now, I sure wish he [Stover] was kicking for the Ravens and not for the Colts."
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Years in NFL: 5
Career FGs: 77-for-98 (78.6 percent)
Why free agent : Missed four of his first six tries (two blocked) in four games with Tampa Bay. Released Oct. 5.
Years in NFL: 8
NFL teams: Dallas Cowboys (2002-05), Tampa Bay Buccaneers* (2006), Green Bay Packers* (2006), New Orleans Saints (2006), Atlanta Falcons* (2007), Kansas City Chiefs* (2008), Detroit Lions* (2009), Cleveland Browns (2009).
Career FGs: 66-for-89 (74.2 percent)
Why free agent: Went 6-for-6 for Browns but was released Nov. 3 when Phil Dawson recovered from a pulled right calf muscle.
* Offseason or practice squad only