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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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Ravens already pumped for Monday night matchup against Patriots

Ravens already pumped for Monday night matchup against Patriots

The Ravens have already turned their attention to beating the Patriots.

It didn’t take long for the Ravens (7-5) to put their most impressive win of the season behind them. Minutes after whipping the Dolphins, 38-6, the Ravens were already talking about their next game, a Monday night matchup against the Patriots (10-2) in Foxborough, Mass. on Dec. 12.

Asked if the Patriots game would be a measuring stick for the Ravens, cornerback Jimmy Smith didn’t shy away.

“Definitely,” Smith said. “I would say even more than the Dallas game, especially because they (the Patriots) are in the AFC. That’s who you’ve got to go through to get where we want to go.”

RELATED: Flacco-Mornhinweg meeting helps Ravens unleash offense

There is no love between the Ravens and Patriots, but they love competing against each other. It’s a rivalry with a great history, but the Ravens and Patriots haven’t faced each other since the 2014 divisional playoffs. In that memorable game, the Ravens suffered a heartbreaking 35-31 loss, after twice leading the Patriots by 14 points.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is having another terrific season, and even without star tight end Rob Gronkowski (season-ending back injury), the Patriots have other formidable weapons like running back LeGarrette Blount (957 yards rushing), wide receiver Julian Edelman (72 catches) and tight end Martellus Bennett (four touchdown catches).

This upcoming matchup will have huge playoff implications, especially for the Ravens, who are in a far more precarious position than the Patriots. The Ravens still control their playoff destiny, but if they don’t win the AFC North, the door to the post-season could be slammed in their face.

“We don’t have any choice but to keep winning,” Smith said. “At 7-5, we have to play our best football now.”

Against the Dolphins, the Ravens played their best game of the season. But already, they are looking forward to seeing the Patriots.

“Now we have to go up into a hostile place that we really enjoy playing,” said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. “It’s going to be another important game up there on a Monday night, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it, big time.”

MORE: Dennis Pitta relieved after his two-touchdown performance against the Dolphins

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Ruth's Chris 5 Sizzling Stats: What decided Ravens-Dolphins

Ruth's Chris 5 Sizzling Stats: What decided Ravens-Dolphins

Here are 5 Sizzling Stats, brought to you by Ruth's Chris, that helped to decide Ravens-Dolphins. 

36 -- Number of completions by Joe Flacco, a franchise record. He completed 36 of 47 passes.

381 -- The number of passing yards for Flacco on the day, his highest total of the season.

6 -- The number of points scored by Miami’s offense, the lowest total to which Baltimore has held an opponent to this season. The Ravens held Cleveland to seven points on two separate occasions, both Baltimore wins.

2 -- Touchdown receptions for Dennis Pitta, marking his first score since Week 14 of 2013. It was his first multi-touchdown game since Dec. 2012.

61 -- Rushing yards by Miami’s Jay Ajayi. His rushing average was 5.1 yards per carry, but he only carried the ball 12 times because of Baltimore’s early (and large) lead.