Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has never been the shy type. That much is certain when you consider his decision to rap in a Royal Farms commercial, sing opera at the Basilica, and open a postgame news conference with a dad joke.
The same holds true for his vision for the future. Nearing the end of a historic campaign, Tucker is unafraid to express his belief that he can do it again next year and in the years beyond.
"I'm not afraid to talk about it," he said. "I think when you speak something and you mean it, you speak it into existence. I want to continue on the path that we're on right now, and the only way we do that is by making the next kick and making the kick that's in front of you at that moment. You've got to look at it both ways. I dream about being one of the best ever when it's all said and done, but I also know that the only way to go about doing so is to take it one kick at a time."
That approach has been wildly successful this season. Tucker has converted 37 of 38 field goals to lead the NFL in field-goal percentage by a wide margin at 97.4 percent. (The next closest is the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Bryant at 91.7 percent on 33 of 36 field goals.)
Tucker has already tied the league record of 10 field goals of at least 50 yards in a single campaign set by former Minnesota Viking Blair Walsh in 2012 and has yet to miss an attempt from that range. He has an outside shot at catching former San Francisco 49er David Akers' NFL record of 44 field goals made in 2011 — former Tennessee Titan Rob Bironas nailed eight field goals in a game in 2007 — but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg would prefer to see a different result from Tucker in Sunday's season finale at the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Hopefully, he'll have a lot of PAT attempts," Rosburg deadpanned.
The gimme nature of Tucker's prowess at connecting on field goals from almost any distance is a luxury that can't be overstated for the Ravens. Where many teams aim to reach an opponent's 33-yard line to feel comfortable about sending out their kickers to attempt a long field goal, the Ravens know that even getting to the 40 opens the door for Tucker to begin some practice swings on the sideline.
"As an offense, you know that once you cross midfield, you're basically guaranteed at least three points," said fullback Kyle Juszczyk, one of Tucker's friends on the team. "That's awful nice to fall back on. It gives you almost a little safety net, and you can afford to take some shots and maybe be a little bit more aggressive there."
Consistency is a much sought-after commodity among kickers — and the franchises that employ them. Five teams this season have had at least two kickers attempt field goals because of either injury or ineffectiveness.
One of those teams is Cincinnati, which dumped longtime incumbent Mike Nugent on Dec. 13 for missing six field goals and six extra points in favor of Randy Bullock. Coach Marvin Lewis said reliability is an important priority when trying to find a kicker.
"Just like your quarterback, you want to be able to know that things are going to go as planned there, and that's really important, that you take the angst out of that situation as much as you can," said Lewis, the former Ravens defensive coordinator.
Kickers can be a quirky lot, but they also thrive on routine and dependability. For them, attempting field goals within their range can be a relief from stress and a building block for confidence.
But Tucker relishes challenges. According to long snapper Morgan Cox, Tucker's excitement grows when he is asked to test his limits.
"The cool thing about Justin is, he's ready to run out there for a 58-yarder," Cox said. "The short ones are good, I guess. They're good confidence builders, but for him, the confidence builder is being able to go out there and hit a long field goal. His confidence is probably second to none."
Tucker is the first to credit Cox, holder Sam Koch, kicking consultant Randy Brown, and Rosburg for their contributions to his success. Rosburg, in turn, said Tucker has worked diligently at fine-tuning his techniques.
"He's always had leg strength," Rosburg said. "I went to watch him at the University of Texas for the first time, and the one thing that stood out to me was the speed of his leg. We all know his personality. He likes being on stage, he likes the moment. He revels in it. It's been said many times about him. Fundamentally, I think he's really in a good place. He's evolved over the years. He's not exactly the same kicker he was in 2012, and he's gotten better through the coaching of Randy Brown and his hard work. He's in a really good place right now. He's going to be good for a long time."
Tucker's ability has helped him join a rarified fraternity filled by kickers such as the Kansas City Chiefs' Jan Stenerud, the Cleveland Browns' Lou Groza, the Ravens' Matt Stover, and the Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri. It's the type of membership that gratifies Tucker, but doesn't completely satisfy him.
"That's cool," he said. "But at the same time, it's about the next kick. It's about taking it one kick at a time. I wouldn't have near the success I've been able to have if it wasn't for having great people around me and knowing that the attitude of just taking it one step at a time. I know I wouldn't be as successful as I am if I didn't think that way."
Best of the best?
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has already tied the NFL record for most field goals of at least 50 yards in a single season. With one final game on Sunday at the Cincinnati Bengals, Tucker can cement a historic campaign. Here are some other significant achievements.
Most field goals in a season
1. David Akers;San Francisco 49ers;2011;44
2. Neil Rackers;Arizona Cardinals;2005;40
3. (tie) Olindo Mare;Miami Dolphins;1999;39
Jeff Wilkins;St. Louis Rams;2003;39
5. (tie) Stephen Gostkowski;New England Patriots;2013;38
Justin Tucker;Baltimore Ravens;2013;38
7. (tie) Justin Tucker;Baltimore Ravens;2016;37
John Kasay;Carolina Panthers;1996;37
Mike Vanderjagt;Indianapolis Colts;2003;37
Highest field goal percentage in a season
1. (tie) Tony Zendejas;Los Angeles Rams;1991;100.0 (17-of-17)
Gary Anderson;Minnesota Vikings;1998;100.0 (35-of-35)
Jeff Wilkins;St. Louis Rams;2000;100.0 (17-of-17)
Mike Vanderjagt;Indianapolis Colts;2003;100.0 (37-of-37)
5. Justin Tucker;Baltimore Ravens;2016;97.4 (37-of-38)
6. Adam Vinatieri;Indianapolis Colts;2014;96.8 (30-of-31)
Most field goals in a season in Ravens history
1. Justin Tucker;2013;38-of-41
2. Justin Tucker;2016;37-of-38
3. Matt Stover;2000;35-of-39
Most points in a season in Ravens history
1. Justin Tucker;2013;140 (38 FGs, 26 PATs)
2. Justin Tucker;2016;137 (37 FGs, 26 PATs)
3. Matt Stover;2000;135 (35 FGs, 30 PATs)
- Justin Tucker
- Baltimore Ravens
- Indianapolis Colts
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Marvin Lewis
- Arizona Cardinals
- Atlanta Falcons
- Carolina Panthers
- Cleveland Browns
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Minnesota Vikings
- San Francisco 49ers
- New England Patriots
- Rob Bironas
- Stephen Gostkowski
- Mike Nugent
- Matt Bryant
- Randol Bullock
- Blair Walsh