In a time of kicking futility in the NFL, Ravens thankful to lean on Justin Tucker

When assessing the bonds in his football world, Justin Tucker is a Raven first.

But he’s part of another NFL fellowship, one with 32 members and an acute understanding of the league’s intolerance for failure.


So Tucker watched with no particular pleasure Sunday as his kicking brethren made a mess of game after game. Thirteen kickers missed field goals or extra points in Week 2, and several flamed out so brutally that they lost their jobs Monday.

“More than anything, I want to see guys at my position do well,” the two-time All-Pro kicker said. “I know the other guys out there, kicking the ball around the league, feel the same way. We understand there’s a duality that comes with the position, where the highs can be really high and the lows can be really low.”


Tucker meanwhile, performed his usual flawless routine, pounding a 55-yard field goal through the heart of the uprights for his 22nd straight make and moving his career record on extra points to a tidy 212-for-212.

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Every year, other NFL teams panic over faltering kickers. And every year, the Ravens say prayers of thanks for the worries they never have to expend on Tucker and his trusty partners, punter/holder Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox.

Coach John Harbaugh was asked how warm and fuzzy he feels with Tucker as his kicking security blanket.

“You never take it for granted that the kick is going to get made, because I know how hard it is. It reminds you of how hard it is to make field goals, right?” he said of watching the misses around the league. “In Baltimore, we don’t ever take those three guys for granted.”


The Ravens feel so secure with Tucker that they see no need to praise him.

“You guys are gonna make me talk up Justin,” quarterback Joe Flacco said when asked about the bloody weekend for kickers in other cities. “He doesn’t need any of that.”

Then he obliged anyway.

“I mean, come on, we all know that Justin’s a great kicker, and you can’t take that position for granted,” Flacco said. “They play a huge role in the outcome of these football games, and we know nobody’s going to be perfect, but Justin’s definitely a big advantage.”

Tucker, Koch and Cox — the self-dubbed “Wolfpack” — take pride in the concerns they don’t inspire.

“I think we all do,” Tucker said. “I think we all try to understand, as best we can, that our teammates go through a lot to put us in position to put points on the board. So that’s the best way we can say, ‘We appreciate your efforts.’ By putting something concrete up on the scoreboard.”

Tucker is one of the few kickers around the league who’s regularly treated like a star. But he’s plenty aware of what he calls, “the duality of the position.”

He watched it play out on Sunday when Cleveland Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez missed two field goals and two extra points in a 3-point loss to the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings kicker Daniel Carlson missed three field goals, including a 35-yarder that would have beaten the Green Bay Packers in overtime.

Both lost their jobs.

After sacking two Buffalo Bills quarterbacks six times in the season opener, the defense left Thursday’s loss against the Cincinnati Bengals with zero sacks.

Kickers empathize with one another in those moments. Saints kicker Wil Lutz jogged across the field to console Gonzalez on Sunday. And on the emotional flipside, Tucker texted Lutz afterward to congratulate him on the purity with which he “smoked” the 44-yard game-winner against Cleveland.

Perhaps it’s because they know the rest of the football world takes far less interest in the emotional peaks and valleys of their craft.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked Monday why he cut Carlson, whom the team drafted in the fifth round less than five months ago.

“Did you see the game?” he replied.

“Was it an easy decision?” came the follow-up.

“Yep, it was pretty easy,” Zimmer said.

Carlson’s misfortune created an opportunity for veteran Dan Bailey to catch on with the Vikings, a potential Super Bowl contender. But the mere fact that Bailey — the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history behind Tucker — had been released a few weeks earlier by the Dallas Cowboys speaks to the lack of job security at the position.

Tucker, who’s in the third season of his four-year, $16.8-million deal with the Ravens, said the market for kickers probably isn’t any more volatile than those at other positions.

“Guys get acquired and traded and cut all the time,” he said. “It just seems like it’s more impactful or decisive when it’s a guy who’s playing a position where he’s one of 32.”

But it certainly feels like kickers operate on thinner ice.

Tucker has always said Koch and Cox deserve enormous credit for his consistency. The trio operates as a team within a team, and aside from the 2014 season, when Cox tore his ACL, Tucker has never known any other way.

“The ball basically kicks itself with Morgan throwing back pretty consistent, 12-o’clock laces and Sam giving me quick spots,” he said. “That helps me, and in turn, it helps our team.”

The solidity of that partnership, along with his six-year record of professional excellence, allowed Tucker to brush past a spate of missed field goals (all from 50 or more yards, to be fair) this preseason.

Asked if those misses (and the fretting they inspired in some fans) bothered him, Tucker said: “No, it was the preseason. Of course I don’t like missing any kick. But it’s important to have perspective as well.”

Reflecting on his own lowest moment, he pointed to each of the 22 regular-season field goals (he knew the number without looking) he’s missed over his career.

“It [stinks], man,” he said. “But more often than not, we’ll bounce right back and make the next one. … To put it concisely, you try to stay the same all the time. You try to be the same guy, try to be the same kicker. It’s something that can be coached and can be taught. But you’ve kind of got to have that ‘it’ factor as well that the best guys all have.”

The regular season has begun, and the Ravens can again set their watches to Tucker. Let the fans and coaches in other towns squirm the next time a game comes down to one kick.