This whole thing with the Baltimore Ravens cutting place kicker Billy Cundiff doesn’t smell right. It didn’t smell right when he missed the 32-yard field goal that could have tied the AFC Championship game with 15 seconds remaining and it doesn’t smell right now.
Of course, Ravens fans everywhere have wide receiver Lee Evans to thank for that, for if he had held on to the Joe Flacco pass in the right corner of the end zone, the Ravens would have gone to the Super Bowl and Cundiff would likely have never met Justin Tucker, the rookie kicker the Ravens chose to keep in Cundiff’s stead.
A case can certainly be made that Tucker outkicked Cundiff this summer, but a case can also be made that it’s not wise for a team that believes itself to be a Super Bowl contender to be so eager to chase that Super Bowl with a rookie place-kicker.
Cundiff, who was signed by the Washington Redskins on Tuesday, receives no exoneration here because he did miss a 32-yard field attempt he is paid well to make. However, from the second Anquan Boldin’s pass reception was marked a yard short of a first down on the final drive of the game, the stench of rotten fish became and remains apparent.
The Ravens ran two more plays, and with the play clock at 10 seconds and running, Cundiff came rushing onto the field seemingly out of center field. There had been confusion on the Ravens sideline, whether it was created by the Ravens coaching staff, the New England scoreboard incorrectly showing it was third down (hard to believe something like that would happen in New England) or by Cundiff himself.
For the sake of simplification, let’s just say it was either or all of the above. Yet rather than allow Cundiff to sprint onto the field to get into position, forcing the ball to be snapped as the play clock expired, and rush the most important kick of his life, why didn’t Ravens head coach John Harbaugh call one of his two remaining timeouts?
Initially, word out of the Ravens locker room was the coaching staff did not want to ice their kicker, which, in the NFL, is really hard for opposing teams to do. Later Harbaugh would say, “That’s something we’ll have to look at.”
They must have looked at it on Monday when they cut Cundiff.
“It’s a kick I’ve kicked probably a thousand times out there," Cundiff told reporters after the game. “... I didn't convert, and that's the way things go. There's really no excuse for it. ...”
The miss was out of character for Cundiff, who was 9 of 9 on field-goal tries inside the 20-yard line and 10 of 12 inside the 30 last season. It was the first kick Cundiff missed in the fourth quarter all season.
“I just told him it’s going to be OK,” Harbaugh said. “Everybody has a bad day. ... Billy’s going to be fine.”
The Redskins believe so, and, yes, everybody has a bad day, with the day of that AFC title game being Harbaugh’s bad day as much as anybody’s, with the obvious exception of Lee Evans.
It can be said that in the history of Baltimore professional sports, the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the Patriots that day has taken residence in the neighborhood of Bittermore Pills with Super Bowl III, the Amazin’ Mets and Jeffrey Maier (the little rat). Perhaps the Ravens just didn’t believe Baltimore fans would be as forgiving and supportive of Cundiff as Buffalo fans were of Scott Norwood, who remained with the Bills for one season after missing the kick in Super Bowl XXV. That’s a reasonable concern and if things had played out that way, who’s to say Cundiff would have been in any state to continue being a successful kicker?
Or maybe in cutting Cundiff, Harbaugh is conceding to himself that he would be in no state to continue with Cundiff as his kicker because of his monumental miss, which would be a reasonable concern as well.
The bottom line, the Ravens say, is Tucker simply outkicked Cundiff, who kicked well enough himself this summer to be out of a job for less than a day.
Under general manager Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens have always been the organization of Next Man Up. Well, the next man up is an untested rookie. Hopefully, Harbaugh took a timeout to consider the possibilities. The last time he rushed to judgment, it didn’t work out so well.
Perhaps the specter of having to see Cundiff every day at work this season would have been too painful of a reminder of that.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org