OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Justin Tucker vividly remembers every detail of his first field goal try in the NFL.
The Baltimore Ravens were in the third quarter of meaningless preseason game in Atlanta last August. For a rookie placekicker, however, it was the national championship and Super Bowl rolled into one.
“That first kick — 36-yarder from the right hash, Georgia Dome — my heart was probably beating out of my chest a little bit,” Tucker recalled Wednesday. “But I stuck with what I know, I did what I always do, and the kick went right down the pipes. From that point on, I’ve been having fun with every single attempt.”
He’s having a great deal of success, too.
Tucker is 11 for 12 on field goal tries and has made all 13 conversions attempts. He kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired against New England on Sept. 23, and last Sunday he scored all of Baltimore’s points in a 9-6 win over Kansas City.
“In a sense, every kick is like, `Wow. This is awesome,”‘ Tucker said. “I really try to treat every attempt exactly the same, whether it’s an extra point, a field goal to win the game or a 50-plus yarder. It really shouldn’t matter. I try to do the same thing every time.”
Tucker won the job over the summer from veteran Billy Cundiff, who subsequently signed by Washington. Cundiff was cut by the Redskins on Tuesday, further justifying coach John Harbaugh’s gamble to keep the rookie instead of the veteran.
“I would describe him as a good kicker, first of all,” Harbaugh said of Tucker. “We love him. He’s ours.”
Tucker’s bout with nerves on that first kick in Atlanta might seem a bit strange, because at the University of Texas he played in far more important games and in front of bigger crowds. He had bigger kicks, too, most notably a 40-yarder against Texas A&M that gave the Longhorns a 27-25 win.
Tucker was a solid kicker with Texas and very good when he got to Baltimore. Working with kicking consultant Randy Brown, special teams coach Jerry Rosburg and Harbaugh, a former special teams coach, made Tucker even better.
“I’m a completely different kicker than I was coming out of college,” he said.
Holder Sam Koch says Tucker shows none of the traits usually associated with a rookie kicker.
“Coming into training camp we knew he was a rookie, but the way he’s been kicking you don’t see that a whole lot,” Koch said. “To be able to come in and be as consistent as he has been with ball striking, that’s impressive. He’s got a great personality and the mentality that you need to go out there and kick every Sunday. If he makes one or misses one, he just puts that behind him and moves onto the next one.”
Koch compared Tucker to Matt Stover, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history and a member of the Ravens from 1996-2008.
“Stover was one of those guys, it didn’t matter where the kick was, how far the kick was, what stadium it was, he always had solid ball-striking,” Koch said. “Tucker does, too. Hits a clean ball every time.”
There’s nothing more deflating for a team than to play hard for 59 minutes and then have the final kick go awry. That’s what Cundiff did in New England last year at the end of the AFC title game, swinging a 32-yard try wide to the left.
Tucker cashed in on his try against the Patriots, and his teammates are certain the next game-winner will split the uprights, too.
“He’s a guy that has confidence all over him,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “You can see it. He doesn’t let anything faze him, and it’s pretty comforting to see that out of a rookie kicker.”
Tucker was born in Houston and played for Texas, so guess which team he grew up cheering for? The Cowboys (2-2), whom the Ravens (4-1) host on Sunday.
“I was always a Cowboys fan,” Tucker said. “My allegiance has certainly changed, and now I’m a 100 percent Baltimore Ravens fan.”
That doesn’t mean he won’t get a few chills on Sunday afternoon.
“There’s still that wow-factor,” Tucker said. “It’s amazing and fun. It was will be kind of cool to be playing the Boys with stars on their helmets.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)