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Ravens kicker Tucker confident he won't miss

Ravens kicker Tucker confident he won't miss

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) If the Baltimore Ravens need a field goal in the waning seconds of the AFC championship game, they'll call upon a rookie with little regard for history.

Justin Tucker knows all about the 32-yard kick that Billy Cundiff missed last January against the New England Patriots, costing the Ravens a chance to force overtime with a trip to the Super Bowl hanging in the balance.

None of that bothers Tucker.

``What's in the past is in the past,'' he said. ``Anything that's happened in the past year, two years, five years, 10 years, or just the last several weeks, that's all null and void now because we just have a singular task at hand - to beat New England.''

Cundiff's miss in the AFC title game was among the most agonizing plays in Ravens history. With Baltimore trailing 23-20 in the final minute, Lee Evans dropped a pass in the end zone before Cundiff's kick sailed wide left to end the Ravens' season.

``I moved on right after it happened,'' Cundiff said recently. "Because I think in order to have success in this league, you have to wipe the slate clean every year. You can't drag things in, whether it's positive or negative, because each year is brand new. (But) would I like to have that kick back? Yeah, most definitely I would.''

Cundiff was invited back to training camp last summer and was favored to beat out Tucker, a rookie out of the University of Texas. But coach John Harbaugh picked Tucker, who went on to validate the decision by making every clutch kick from September through last weekend.

Tucker went 30 for 33 on field goal tries during the regular season, including game-winners against New England and San Diego. Last week, he nailed a 47-yarder in the second overtime to give the Ravens a 38-35 win over top-seed Denver.

Tucker's accuracy is exceeded only by his self-assuredness. If asked to win the game Sunday night, Tucker said he won't flinch.

``I will be confident because we have a routine we follow,'' he said. ``We do what we know and do what we trust.''

Morgan Cox snaps the ball, Sam Koch puts it down and Tucker kicks it. It's as easy as 1-2-3.

Recalling Tucker's game-winner against the Broncos, Ravens special teams coach Jerry Rosburg said, ``He enjoys those moments. You could tell when he went out there it wasn't intimidating to him. He was ready to seize the opportunity. He made a great kick after a great hold and a great snap. It was fun to watch.''

Tucker is a rookie in name only. Sure, he was kicking for Texas a little of a year ago, but after signing as a free agent with Baltimore he was forced to grow up in a hurry.

``I kind of did away with that whole rookie notion when I got here just because I had to come in and compete against a guy who had a lot of success,'' Tucker said. ``So I could never afford to think like a rookie or perform like one. If I ever let myself think like that, I'd be doing everybody in this building a disservice.''

If Tucker walks onto the field Sunday night with a chance to win the game, his teammates probably won't be thinking back to last year. They'll be looking forward to a trip to New Orleans.

``This year, I've never been nervous about Justin Tucker kicking a field goal,'' Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata said. ``I think everyone can tell that he has a lot of confidence and he kicks really well. I think, with that, people just believe in him.''

Said Rosburg: ``He's got a very confident persona. He's a confident young man in a lot of things he does.''

Tucker's kick against Denver salvaged an otherwise horrible day for Baltimore's special teams. Not only did the Ravens give up a 90-yard punt return to Trindon Holliday, but they also yielded a 104-yard kickoff return to the same player.

``I was certainly upset,'' Rosburg said. ``When you give up two touchdowns, that's unacceptable in a season let alone one game. We're all very fortunate, those of us in the special teams room, that the rest of the team played as well as it did to still secure the victory.''

One week earlier, the Ravens held Indianapolis to zero yards on four punts and five kickoffs. Rosburg cited plenty of reasons for the breakdown against the Broncos, including a crosswind and missed tackles.

Fortunately for Baltimore, Tucker came through in Denver. The Ravens are confident that, if needed, he will again in New England.

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Harbaugh calls for changes to NFL preseason format

Harbaugh calls for changes to NFL preseason format

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh believes the NFL preseason needs to be shortened, and perhaps even eliminated.

This is more than a knee-jerk reaction to tight end Ben Watson suffering a season-ending torn Achilles injury Saturday night, or running back Kenneth Dixon suffering a knee injury, or Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffering a back injury Friday night. Harbaugh had already concluded that a four-game preseason schedule preseason was no longer worth the risk for players.

“It’s not a reaction to any injuries we had tonight, or anybody else had,” Harbaugh said, following Saturday night’s 30-9 victory over the Lions. “I know the league and the (NFL) Players Association is working very hard and trying to figure out ideas to work out the preseason.

“These guys playing in these preseason games – it’s tough and they’re not meaningful games. They are important to get better, and they improve us. But we football coaches can find ways to get our guys ready and get our players evaluated without the kind of risk that a game necessarily entails. I’m really hopeful that the union and the league can get together and do something that’s good for everybody – especially what’s good for the players and for the fans.”

Harbaugh indicated he would be in favor of expanding rosters, lengthening the regular season, and shortening the preseason.

“If you go more games, fewer preseason games, and bigger rosters, that’s good for everybody,” Harbaugh said.

Asked how many preseason games he would like to see, Harbaugh gave a definite answer.

“If I had my choice, I’d go none,” Harbaugh said. “That might be an extreme point, but we could run scrimmages, or we could run practices against other teams and figure it out. We’d all be in the same boat. That’s for people higher up than me to decide.”

RELATED: Ravens win game, but lose TE Watson for season

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Gillmore: No panic despite thinning TE ranks

Gillmore: No panic despite thinning TE ranks

When the Ravens entered training camp, tight end was considered the deepest position on the team after the signing of veteran Ben Watson and the return of Dennis Pitta from two serious hip injuries.

But now, the Ravens are staring at the prospect of having just one healthy tight end for their Week 1 game against the Bills.

Watson suffered what is believed to be a season-ending Achilles injury on the first play of the Ravens preseason game Saturday night against the Lions, and Dennis Pitta (broken finger) and Maxx Williams (undisclosed) remain sidelined with injuries. Two other tight ends, Darren Waller and Nick Boyle must begin serving suspensions when the regular season starts – Waller four games and Boyle 10.

So of the top six tight ends on the depth chart, Crockett Gillmore is the only healthy one who will be on the roster for the Sept. 11 opener.

But Gillmore, who had one catch for 2 yards in the Ravens 30-9 win Saturday night, said no one is in panic mode.

MORE RAVENS: 3 OBSERVATIONS FROM FLACCO'S PRESEASON DEBUT

“This is an organization that has dealt with those kinds of things since I’ve been here, and we’ve always had guys step up,” Gillmore said.

Watson’s injury does have a painful ring of familiarity; the Ravens lost veterans Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith to season-ending Achilles injuries last year.

“It’s not like we’re sweating bullets around here,” Gillmore said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can play.”

The problem is, at least two of them – Waller and Boyle – can’t play early in the season. Pitta has been out with a broken finger sustained in a scuffle with Kamalei Correa in a stadium practice earlier this month, and Wiliams has missed the past two preseason games. Their availability for Week 1 remains uncertain.

Watson’s injury could open the door for Daniel Brown to make the team, at least until Waller’s suspension is over, depending on the progress of Pitta and Williams.

Another option might be to look to utilize fullback Kyle Juszczyk more often in a hybrid role.

 “That’s a versatile guy that can do everything,” Gillmore said.

“We’re not sweating,” Gillmore said. “We’ve got a bunch of receivers, too. We’ll make it work.”

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Ravens win preseason game vs. Lions, but lose Watson for season

Ravens win preseason game vs. Lions, but lose Watson for season

BALTIMORE – Five instant observations from the Ravens’ 30-9 preseason win over the Lions, which made the Ravens 3-0 this preseason:

1. Ben Watson’s season-ending Achilles injury made this victory hollow:

The veteran tight end was lost on the first play from scrimmage, and his season was lost before he ever played a regular season game for the Ravens. Football can be cruel.

2.  Rookie running back Kenneth Dixon’s knee injury could be another blow.

It was announced that Dixon had a sprained left knee, but he was helped off the field, and no timetable was given for his return. It would not be surprising if an MRI is forthcoming. If so, many people will be holding their breath.

MORE RAVENS: DEEPER LOOK AT FLACCO'S PRESEASON DEBUT

3. Rookie pass rusher Matt Judon looks ready to have an immediate impact.

Judon had a strip-sack on another active night. At the very least, Judon looks like could have an immediate role as a situational pass rusher.

4. Linebacker-safety Anthony Levine could be the Ravens’ most improved player.

Levine had an athletic interception, and he has made a successful transition to playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Last week, Levine picked off a pass on a two-point conversion attempt against the Colts and took it to the house. Levine’s ability to line up in multiple spots, and to make plays, could make the Ravens’ defense more versatile and less predictable.

5.  Wide receiver Jeremy Butler keeps making plays.

I know it’s preseason, and I know the Ravens are deep at wide receiver. But I think they have to keep Jeremy Butler. He had his second touchdown catch of the preseason, he can contribute on special teams, and he caught 31 passes last season. I see the Ravens keeping seven receivers - Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore, and Butler.