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Kickers are also in the weight room more, employ specialized training and superior techniques, kick on more favorable surfaces, generally are better coached and are used more effectively and efficiently on game day.

They benefit from better athleticism than their predecessors, come almost exclusively from soccer backgrounds, are aided by an increased emphasis on special teams and rule changes, and even by playing some of their games indoors.

It all adds up to greater accuracy.

“Coaches are starting to let more opportunities happen, which will increase the percentage,” Walsh said. “I just think guys are really starting to perfect what they do, and you’re seeing a lot more great kickers today than you probably did in the past. You’d have a handful of great kickers and the rest would be pretty good, but not elite, but I think there’s a ton of elite kickers in the NFL right now.”

The success rate has risen steadily from all distances, short and long, during the Super Bowl era. In 1967, for instance, barely 51 percent of all field goal attempts were good. Now, nine in 10 are splitting the uprights, which were moved to the back of the end zone in 1974.

Back then, kickers were often converted linemen who happened to have strong legs. Now, every kicker in the NFL played soccer as a kid and all employ the soccer-style kick that has improved place-kickers’ accuracy over the decades.

Hall of Fame kicker Lou “The Toe” Groza made 54.9 percent of his field goal attempts, a percentage that would get him run off the roster today, not enshrined in Canton, Ohio.

Kickers aren’t just more accurate, but with such parity in the league, they’re more important than ever.

Through Week 3, 28 games were decided by one score, tied with 1988 for the most such games through the first three weeks. Last weekend, seven games were decided in the final minute of regulation or overtime, something that’s happened just once before, in 1995. Five of those came down to a field goal.

Among the seven game-winning field goals so far was Tucker’s 27-yarder as time expired that gave the Ravens the victory over the New England Patriots last weekend in a rematch of the AFC championship game. In that title game, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds. In the encore, Tucker _ who took the job away from Cundiff in training camp _ drove his kick just inside the right upright.

“Bottom line is it went in,” Tucker said. “That’s all I care about. It went in.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick wasn’t so sure and he was fined $50,000 this week for grabbing a replacement official’s arm after the game as he tried to see if the call was reviewable. It wasn’t.

Tucker, who beat out Cundiff with a perfect preseason, attributes his success to lessons he received from head coach John Harbaugh, special teams coach Jerry Rosburg and kicking consultant Randy Brown.

“I feel like I’m kicking the best I ever kicked,” Tucker said. “Took a little work, took a couple of days, and now I feel like I’m striking the ball as confidently as I ever have.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way.

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