- - Wednesday, September 26, 2012

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Before Justin Tucker knew it, Terrell Suggs was pouring water out of two Gatorade bottles on top of his head in celebration.

The water was icy and the temperature was in the low-60s, which is cold for the Austin, Texas, native. But he was all smiles, having just delivered a game-winning 27-yard kick to defeat the New England Patriots 31-30 on Sunday night.

“I was going into the locker room shivering,” Tucker said.

Tucker’s kick exorcised the demons that were still lingering from Billy Cundiff’s missed 32-yarder that ended the Ravens’ chances against the Patriots in last season’s AFC championship game. Cundiff, now with the Redskins, was beaten out by the rookie Tucker in training camp.

Tucker’s kick barely cleared. It went directly over the right upright, which is good and not reviewable.

This wasn’t the first game-winner for Tucker, who played college football at Texas. Against rival Texas A&M, Tucker kicked a game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired last November. His teammates tackled him and piled on before two Longhorns picked him up and placed him on their shoulders.

Tucker has come through in two crucial moments in less than a year. His early success in Baltimore, however, doesn’t surprise his teammates.

“I was already sending my farewells,” running back Ray Rice said. “I’ve seen him make those kicks in practice all the time.”

Changing sports

Tucker’s parents had him participating in soccer at an early age, and he quickly became competitive at it. When he was 10, he began playing club-level soccer and stayed with it until he was about 15.

Maybe his leg was too strong or maybe he didn’t take to the finesse required when striking goals, because his leg began telling him it was time to switch sports.

“I found out I was in the wrong sport when I was hitting the ball over the crossbar on a consistent basis,” Tucker said.

In addition, Tucker’s friends were playing football and he wanted in. He became the kicker for Westlake High School in Austin but also played defensive back and receiver. Having spent time as a defender in high school, Tucker never shied away from contact in college.

At Texas, he posted 24 career special teams tackles. Kickers aren’t thought of as hitters, and if a kicker is making a tackle, it’s usually a bad sign since they’re typically the last line of defense on special teams.

But if Tucker has the opportunity to hit, he’ll do it. He doesn’t back down.

Story Continues →