- - Sunday, June 3, 2012

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Confidence is critical for an NFL kicker, especially when that much-needed self-reliance could be shaken after a crucial miss.

Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff is evidence of this, having spent what’s seemed like a long offseason coping with what came after missing a normally easy 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC championship game against New England to overtime.

Cundiff answers questions about his miss on a somewhat regular basis. A couple of weeks ago, he was in a grocery store checkout line when a cashier asked him how he’ll respond from missing his kick. The patron behind him chimed in as well.

“I told him what I tell everybody, the past is in the past,” Cundiff said.

Questions have run rampant concerning Cundiff this offseason: Will the Ravens release him? Do the Ravens trust him? Will Cundiff falter under the burden of receiving much of the blame for losing the conference title from people outside of his locker room?

For now, it appears the Ravens have his back. His track record indicates this miss was a one-time occurrence, an anomaly of sorts. Though his range from 50 yards or longer has been shaky the past two years (1 for 7), he’s 53 of 58 from 49 yards or closer during that time span.

To hear Cundiff re-examine the missed kick, it seems he considers it a fluke and something he can’t spend more time worrying about.

“That was the first miss I’ve had in the playoffs,” Cundiff said. “It’s the first kick I missed all year in the fourth quarter. I think the situation is pretty unique. I’ll learn what I can from it and keep my confidence high.”

But while the Ravens have supported Cundiff, they’re at least toying with the idea of making him sweat until the regular season 53-man roster is set. The organization hasn’t brought in a kicker to compete with Cundiff. A team source indicated certain veterans who were sought out declined the invitation because they don’t feel they’d be able to beat Cundiff for the roster spot.

One potential door closed when Shayne Graham signed with the Houston Texans on May 7. The Ravens signed Graham last December when Cundiff suffered a calf injury but released him once Cundiff was healthy.

Without a veteran kicker to add in early May, the Ravens tried out undrafted rookie kicker Justin Tucker from Texas during rookie minicamp. Tucker’s best moment in college came this past season against rival Texas A&M, when he drilled a 40-yard field goal for the win with time expiring. An 83 percent kicker in college, Tucker made a 55-yard field goal with room to spare during the first day of his Ravens tryout and almost made one from 60.

But when Tucker wasn’t signed by the first week of organized team activities, Cundiff took it as a sign the organization didn’t feel there was a need to bring in competition.

“The team doesn’t have anybody else here,” Cundiff said May 23. “The team believes in me. The coach has been really positive with me throughout the whole offseason.”

However, the Ravens brought Tucker back for a second tryout last week and signed him May 29. Regardless of what thinks or thought, it’s now a competition.

“All I can say is, I’m here now and I’m ready to work,” Tucker said. “All I can do is put my best foot forward and do my best to impress coaches, my other teammates, the veterans and make a good second first impression.”

Cundiff will have to prove he’s the same kicker the Ravens thought he was when they signed him to a five-year, $14.7 million deal after the 2010 season.

“[Cundiff‘s] done nothing to make us think he can’t handle that kind of competition,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “There’s always competition. Obviously, Billy has the edge. Everybody’s fighting for their job.”

Cundiff knows he’ll have to deal with the missed kick in Foxborough, Mass., until he makes his next field goal.

During the offseason, he spoke with a sports psychologist, someone he’s worked with in the past. He said he wasn’t looking for counseling or comfort. He needed to move forward from the AFC championship game.

“I learned a little bit in sense of there’s certain things I can change, but the big lesson is control what you can control,” Cundiff said. “It’s all about looking forward. That’s the big thing for me. I know that I would have liked to make the kick, but, at the same time, it didn’t happen, just like there were other kicks in my career I didn’t make. There’s been very few guys that have been perfect.”



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