Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has passed pretty much every test thrown at him so far in his impressive rookie season. He earned a spot in training camp as an undrafted free agent, then beat out veteran Billy Cundiff for the job. He tied a franchise record with a 56-yard field goal against the Eagles, and hit the game-winner on the final play to beat New England.
Now Tucker prepares for his latest and perhaps toughest challenge as a pro: kicking at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, where long field-goal attempts go to die.
The Steelers' home field along the Allegheny River is notoriously tough for kickers, with its chewed-up turf, swirling winds and frequent cold and rainy weather.
The longest field goal ever made at Heinz Field is 52 yards, and there have been no 50-yarders even attempted there this season. In the past three Ravens-Steelers games at Heinz Field, at least one field-goal try has been missed. This past week, Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop missed a 33-yarder that had huge implications, as the Steelers ultimately won in overtime.
Tucker, who is 17-for-18 overall this season and 9-for-9 on the road, has heard the horror stories. But he noted that Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and kicking consultant Randy Brown have plenty of experience with Heinz Field.
"You take it for what it's worth and you prepare the best you can for whatever type of environment you're going to be playing in," Tucker said.
The latest weather forecast for Sunday night in Pittsburgh calls for dry and cold weather, with an overnight low of about 35 degrees.
Before past trips to Pittsburgh and Cleveland -- another cold-weather, natural grass, kicker's nightmare -- the Ravens have frequently torn up a patch of grass on a back field and practiced kicking off that turf with muddy, wet balls.
"We'll probably do something similar this week," Tucker said. "It's always good to mix it up anyway, regardless of where we're playing, to be able to have that confidence in an environment where conditions are not perfect."
Tucker said he has talked to other kickers, including the Browns' Phil Dawson, a fellow Texas Longhorn who did some summer workouts with Tucker before his senior season in Austin, about kicking in tricky conditions.
"If the field is bad," Tucker said, "you just gotta pack in a plant spot and just trust your technique, and good things will happen."