Cundiff costs Ravens Super Bowl bid


BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor

You can call him the master of the miss, the sultan of shank or a klutz in the clutch.

Call him what you will, but if you were the New England Patriots on Sunday, you had better show Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff some mad respect. The nine-year, undrafted kicker completely shanked a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining in the AFC Championship game Sunday in Foxboro, Mass. The botched chip shop would have forced overtime between the Patriots and Ravens, but instead it sent New England to its seventh Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. The Patriots won the game 23-20 and will now face the New York Giants on Feb. 5 for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

The kick will undoubtedly go down in history as what could have been for the Baltimore Ravens. If Cundiff would have been able to make a kick that most kickers can nail in their sleep, Baltimore would’ve at least had a shot at upsetting one of the greatest teams football has ever seen. But as we all know by now, Cundiff missed, eliminating his team from the 2011-2012 NFL Playoffs.

Now I have heard of Billy Cundiff since he entered the league in 2002 with the Dallas Cowboys. But the former pro bowler’s missed kick made me want to learn more about him. Obvious questions prompted me to do some research. As I started to stare at Cundiff’s statistics, the first one I had to look at is how accurate the guy is between the 30- and 40-yard line. To my surprise, he’s 76 percent for his carreer. Not the best, but also, not the worst. But he has been at his best from that distance in the past two season. During that span, he was well over 80 percent and a top 10 kicker from that distance. Actually, Cundiff has been one of the league’s best for the past two years and earned a pro bowl nod last season for his kicking abilities.

He is also in the right place to soar as a kicker and has done so during his three years with the Ravens. Baltimore isn’t exactly a team known for its offensive firepower, so the Ravens have to depend on the kicker a lot. And when called upon, Cundiff usually shines. Last season, he ranked No. 5 for field goals made and was No. 6 for nailing 90 percent of them. However, it seemed like he fell off a little this season. He hit just 76 percent of his kicks (NFL rank No. 17) and was the third-highest used kicker at 37 attempts. So the possibility that the Drake University product misses a field goal is always likely.

The biggest question after the game was if Cundiff would be keeping his job. To me, he’s worth the gamble, considering how he earned his paycheck in 2010-2011. But management will have to ask itself if it’s worth keeping around the guy who blew the chance to send the Ravens to the Super Bowl. If they keep Cundiff, Baltimore will get tons of flack from their fans. And the locker room situation could be worse. There’s no way teammates told Cundiff that missing a kick in that situation is “just part of the game.” So Cundiff could be cut because of safety reasons. There are other kickers throughout history who have choked big time in the playoffs and came back to the same team. So the Ravens could also let the embarrassing moment be water under the bridge.

Whatever the Ravens decide, it will be Cundiff who has to live with the kick and what could have been for the rest of his life. I pity the poor kicker, but they just don’t come much easier than that.

OTHER NOTABLE MISSED PLAYOFF KICKS

Nate Kaeding, San Diego Chargers, 2010 AFC Divisional Playoffs: Kaeding, who is the most accurate kicker in NFL history at 86.5 percent, missed three crucial field goals against the Jets. The Chargers lost 17-14 and Kaeding missed a 40-yard field goal in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

• Gary Anderson, Minnesota Vikings, 1999 NFC Championship: Unlike Cundiff’s try, Anderson’s miss would have sent the 1999 Minnesota Vikings straight to the Super Bowl. The 23-year veteran made all 35 of his attempts that year, but his only miss would’ve put the Vikings up by 10 in as game they lost to the Atlanta Falcons in overtime.

• Doug Brien, New York Jets, 2005 AFC Divisional Playoffs: Brien had more than once chance to be a hero in the 2005 playoffs. The kicker missed what would have been two game-winning field goals in the final two minutes in a 20-17 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

• Scott Norwood, Buffalo Bills, Super Bowl XXV: You know it’s got to be painful when you miss the field goal that would actually give your team the Lombardi Trophy. But that’s exactly what Scott Norwood did in 1991. The Bills trailed the Giants 20-19 in the final moments before Norwood lined up for the game-winner from 47 yards with just eight seconds remaining. He missed wide right and the kick immediately went down in history as the first and only missed kick that could’ve won the Super Bowl.

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