It’s easy in that spot to dwell on the negative, but Cundiff wouldn’t allow that to creep in. Instead, he told himself: “If everybody is doing their job, then why don’t I just step up and do mine?”
Then Cundiff’s Redskins teammates talked to him. He was walking down the sideline in the final minute as Robert Griffin III led the offense on a memorable drive trailing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22-21 and heard one thing.
“Everybody’s looking at me, maybe they were lying to themselves, but at least they did a good job outwardly saying, ‘We trust you; we know you’re going to make this one,’” he said.
Trust was validated as Cundiff connected from 41 yards out on the game-winner, putting a stamp of redemption on a rough day.
“Dude, it’s awesome. I think being a kicker is so difficult because it’s so easy to quantify how you’re playing during the course of a game, during the course of a season and during the course of a career,” tight end Logan Paulsen said. “The fact that he was able to kind of leave that once he missed it, move and make it when he had to make it, it was really special he was able to do that.”
Cundiff, signed by the Redskins in late August after his release by the Baltimore Ravens, was headed toward goat status had the Buccaneers won. Three missed, including two within his range, had him cursing blown opportunities.
On the first, wide right from 41 yards out, Cundiff cited timing being off with long snapper Justin Snow and holder Sav Rocca. On the second, short from 57 yards, Cundiff didn’t kick himself for almost having the leg. On the third, a chip-shot 31-yarder, he called it a “complete mental error.”
“It was just one of those kicks that at the end of the season I’m going to look back on and be really disappointed I let that one slip by,” he said “That’s not the stuff you want your teammates to look at, knowing that in the fourth quarter they’ve got to be able to trust you.”
Players insisted their trust in Cundiff never waned. But three misses in three tries can be the end of the world for a kicker. Coach Mike Shanahan acknowledged that “obviously if you miss too many, your employment’s not very long.”
“It’s really tough for a kicker to maintain a job when you miss four kicks in a game,” Cundiff said. “That’s pretty much a given.”
That was the pressure he was facing with seven seconds on the clock: The game and more than likely his job on the line.
Cundiff is perhaps most remembered most for his AFC Championship Game miss for the Ravens last season at the New England Patriots, something that might be aiding his psychological battle. As he went through the motions in his own head, Cundiff didn’t think about that miss or the three from earlier on against the Buccaneers.
“It’s one of those things that in order to really find out a lot about yourself, I really feel like you have to be tested. These are the kind of situations where you really find out, mentally, how you talk to yourself,” he said. “Because a lot of guys, especially young kickers, it’s a problem: you miss a couple kicks, you get throw in for a game-winning situation and you fail. … So I made sure I kept going through and saying, when it comes down to game-winners, I know I’m going to make it.”
He did, sneaking the ball a few feet within the left upright. What was the difference on the game-winner?