Baltimore’s specialists tried to keep things as routine as possible despite the scoreboard.
With the Ravens and Steelers tied at 23 last Sunday in overtime, Marlon Humphrey punched the football out of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s arms to give the Ravens the ball already in field goal range.
As the Ravens’ defense went wild and offense ran onto the field, the three Ravens specialists, kicker Justin Tucker, punter Sam Koch, and long-snapper Morgan Cox, hurried into their warm-ups on the sideline.
Just three plays later, they were on the field to attempt a 46-yard game-winning field goal at one of the most difficult stadiums, on the most difficult side of the field to kick. But at that point, it was all routine.
“At that point, it’s for Tucker to just kick it through,” Koch said. “He’s been so good for so long, it’s one of those things, I know Morgan is going to get it to me, I know I’m going to get it down, and at the end of the kick, I know it’s going to go through.”
The trio didn’t have much time after Humphrey’s forced fumble to prepare themselves for an eventual game-winning field goal.
“We always say the three us try to stay a little bit disconnected but informed,” Cox said. “Just so, emotionally, we’re on a level surface so to speak.”
After the Ravens took over on offense, Tucker went to the kicking net to practice his kicks for what they knew could turn into a field goal attempt.
Cox and Koch practiced snaps and holds on first down like they normally do. The three don’t normally talk much before a kick attempt, but whatever conversations there are typically reserved to keep each other loose.
On third down, Cox and Koch got one more snap on third down before they went over to stand by the coaches and wait for their cue to head onto the field.
The routine was the same as it always is when attempting the field goal, despite the pressure to execute with the game on the line.
“We try not to think of it any differently, we think of it as any other kick that we have in practice or we think of it as the first kick in the game,” Koch said. “We try to keep it as simple as we can, go out there and execute the way we know how.”
One of the reasons the Ravens had to run out and kick on the south side of Heinz Field was because of the decision Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made after the Steelers won the coin toss to start overtime.
With the Ravens kickoff team pinning the Steelers deep with each kick, Tomlin elected to defer in overtime and force the Ravens to score at the more difficult, open side of the stadium to kick toward.
“The field there is very soft,” Koch said. “It’s kind of like Cleveland’s field, Cleveland’s field can get chewed up as well. It’s one of those things, we know how to control that with Tucker’s footwork. We usually like to tamp it down, try to make it as solid as we can so when he comes into the ball, there’s a lot of things we can do.”
Tucker had already kicked a 48-yard field goal to tie the game with 10 seconds left, but his 46-yarder was for the win at the same end of the field.
It wasn’t anything the trio hadn’t already gone through, though.
“We practice game-winners out on the practice field, obviously it’s different when it comes to the actual game, but we try and practice and simulate those emotions and the routine of it all,” Cox said. “So when we get in the game, nothing’s new happening. We’ve been here before. Snap, hold, kick.”
Cox gave a good snap, Koch gave a good hold and Tucker swung his leg through the ball.
“And then the game-winner, from 46, it left my foot, and I knew it was going to have a chance, but I wasn’t 100 percent on it, to be perfectly honest,” Tucker said. “But it got about two-thirds of the way there and took that right that the ball from 48 took, just a few moments prior.”
The ball started off wide of the left goalpost, but veered back right and snuck in the left post to give the Ravens a 26-23 overtime win.
Not everyone, however, saw it that way.
“It was gonna make it all the way,” Koch said with a sarcastic grin. “It was right down the center. You guys didn’t see that? It was right down the center.”
The last-second veer into the uprights lifted the Ravens to 3-2 and let the team escape still second in the division with a winning record.
“So, God is good,” Tucker said. “That’s all I have to say about that. I think an act of God might have helped us get out of Heinz with the win.”
About an hour after Tucker’s kick sailed through the uprights, he returned back to the field by, he thought, himself.
“The only other folks out there were grounds crew guys with leaf blowers blowing off debris from the field,” Tucker recalled. “The stadium is empty, I’m just looking around, kind of taking in the moment. Because like I said, this is special. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s like the most rad feeling. We go in there, we just won the game, walk-off field goal, and it’s empty in there.”
Tucker ran down the field in a gray sweatsuit, only to see the entire special teams' group waiting in the tunnel for him.
“Then, as I was kind of jogging back over to the tunnel, Morgan and Sam and (kicking coach) Randy (Brown) were over there — and like I said, I didn’t think anybody else was out there — I did like a little soccer-style airplane thing, which is probably over the top, a little bit ridiculous, but it’s all in good fun,” Tucker said. “At the end of the day, just a whole experience to be thankful for.”
The celebration was well warranted. The unit has five Pro Bowl appearances between the three of them, a unit that has consistently been one of the NFL’s best. The Ravens haven’t missed an extra point or field goal in 2019 either, including the preseason.
“The ball could pretty much kick itself,” Tucker said. “I’m happy just to be a part of the group. And to get the recognition is less about me and more about all three of us, all 11 of us. There’s a lot that goes into making that ball go through the uprights.”
Cox, who said he had a front-row seat to the kick, ran down the field to get the ball for Tucker. After the madness that followed faded away, he gave him the ball and recognition of another perfect performance for the specialists.
It didn’t look like just another kick, but for the Ravens specialists, it was the same as it ever was.
“A lot of stuff is broken down after practice via video and studying all of the intricacies that we have been able to identify over the years as difference-makers in terms of making kicks,” Tucker said. “So, just having that support system in place is something that I’m incredibly grateful for. I’ll leave it at that.”
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