Ravens Beat: Kicker Billy Cundiff coming through in clutch

It was 12 months ago when fans grumbled about the Ravens signing Billy Cundiff instead of bringing back Matt Stover. It was five months ago when the Ravens decided to sign Shayne Graham, the NFL's fourth-most accurate kicker, instead of giving the kicking job to Cundiff in the offseason.

Now, 10 games into a promising season, no one is doubting Cundiff. He is hitting clutch field goals. He is picking up the slack for a struggling red-zone offense. And he is knocking kickoffs deep into the end zone at a historic rate.

Cundiff's career path has gone from out of football to the top of the league by some observers' estimation.

"If he's not a Pro Bowl guy, I don't know who is in the AFC as a kicker," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

A trip to the Pro Bowl probably isn't happening. Miami's Dan Carpenter and Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski are the leading contenders to go to Hawaii for the AFC.

But one can make a strong case for Cundiff being a Most Valuable Player candidate for the Ravens, especially in the last three victories.

In the 37-34 win against Buffalo, Cundiff hit the game-winning, 38-yard field goal 4:06 into overtime. In the 26-10 victory over Miami, he made four field goals when the offense managed one touchdown in seven red-zone trips. And last Sunday's 37-13 win at Carolina, he delivered a 49-yarder with 5:55 left in the game after the Panthers had closed to within a touchdown.

Cundiff, 30, ranks seven in the AFC in both field-goal percentage (85 percent), which would be a career best. Entering this season, Cundiff had converted 73.6 percent of his field goals in 70 NFL games.

Cundiff's biggest improvement, however, has been on kickoffs. His 29 touchbacks (kickoffs that aren't returned) lead the NFL and are already the 10th most in NFL history.

There is really no one in Cundiff's league this season when it comes to driving kickoffs in the end zone. He has recorded touchbacks on 56.9 percent of his kickoffs. No other NFL kicker is above 42 percent.

It's a bigger disparity when looking at the Ravens' record books. His 29 touchbacks nearly double the previous high for an entire Ravens season (Stover had 15 in 1997). That's why the average starting field position for teams after kickoffs is the 23-yard line, which is fourth in the NFL.

The Ravens were able to retain Cundiff by giving the restricted free agent a one-year tender worth $1.2 million. It'll be interesting to see how much it will take to keep Cundiff in free agency because dollars should outnumber the doubters this offseason.

Kicker, teamTBKOPct.
Billy Cundiff, Ravens295156.9
Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland245742.1
David Akers, Philadelphia196230.6

Here's the touchback leaders in the NFL: