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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 defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

RELATED: WHO WERE THE RAVENS' MVP'S IN 2017?

To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

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Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

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Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

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Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.