In a 12-year pro career, Sam Koch has won a Super Bowl, been selected to the Pro Bowl, scored a touchdown, led the NFL in net punting average and set just about every Ravens punting record there is to have.
Yet, when coach John Harbaugh called Koch into the center of the visiting locker room at FirstEnergy Stadium after the Ravens’ 27-10 victory Sunday over the Cleveland Browns, the team’s longtime punter was about to experience a career first.
Koch had gotten game balls before during the week, but Sunday marked the first time he was the recipient of one in the locker room after a game.
“It was very special,” Koch said. “I’ll take that one home and post it up in the man cave.”
The 35-yard old is having one of his best NFL seasons, and Sunday was probably his best game of the year. Koch dropped four of his five punts inside the Browns’ 20-yard line, including three that were downed inside the 5 and one that set up a Ravens’ defensive touchdown in the third quarter that all but put the game away.
On a day when the Browns offense was struggling to move the ball, Koch kept pinning it back. He entered the week with a league-best 33 punts inside the 20, and he ended it with 37.
“Sam is the best punter in the league, but we’ve always known that,” Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He could put the ball wherever we need to and our special teams coach, Jerry [Rosburg], he’s making sure that our three phases, our kicker and our punter, stay the best in the league, and that’s what they’ve been doing. Our [special] teams have been playing phenomenal. Everyone know when you go on a run, your special teams is key. It’s good to have Sam and [kicker] Justin [Tucker] on your team.”
Koch, the second-longest-tenured Raven behind Suggs, abhors being the center of attention. He spent most of his postgame interview praising longtime snapper Morgan Cox and the members of the team’s coverage units.
“I’d just assume not get called out,” he said. “I just like to go behind the scenes, but it was very cool. I appreciate Coach doing that. I just like to go out there and do my job each and every week. We’ve got such a great team to do that with. Just kind of keep on moving forward and play special teams like we know how to play it.”
For all the attention Tucker gets — and deservedly so — Koch is every big a part of one of the league’s best special teams groups. He routinely nullifies opposing return games with his wide array of directional punts. He’s even added to his repertoire this season by pulling off two successful fake punts with precise throws to gunner Chris Moore.
Koch and Moore affected the game more conventionally Sunday. Moore downed Koch’s second punt late in the first quarter, which was a 58 yarder, on the 3-yard line. Reserve tight end Vince Mayle corralled Koch’s third punt on the Browns’ 4. And it was Moore again, downing Koch’s 37-yard punt on the Browns’ 4 about midway through the third quarter.
On the ensuing play from scrimmage, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith strip-sacked Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer and defensive tackle Brandon Williams recovered the ball for the touchdown that gave the Ravens a 24-10 lead. It was the Ravens’ fifth defensive touchdown of the season, and it was set up by Koch.
“We have the best special teams unit in the league with him, ‘Tuck’ and [Anthony Levine Sr.] anchoring all our coverage units. It’s a bonus that we can change the field at any time and they can make whether it’s a fake or a kickoff getting inside the 20, the punt getting inside the 5 multiple times tonight,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said.
“We don’t take it for granted. We work on special teams more than anyone in the league and it shows. That’s why it takes all three phases in this league. We know how important special teams is and we appreciate the guys that play on special teams. We’re lucky to have all those guys. The effort and the practices they put in throughout the week doesn’t go unnoticed.”
It certainly didn’t Sunday as Koch walked out of the locker room with one of the game balls.