Sports

Ravens Tucker gets a kick out of being perfect

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) celebrates his field goal with Baltimore Ravens tight end Nick Boyle (86) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Baltimore, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) celebrates his field goal with Baltimore Ravens tight end Nick Boyle (86) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Baltimore, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens' most potent offensive weapon is Justin Tucker, a can't-miss kicker who also happens to be a talented opera singer, skilled negotiator and the target of good-natured insults from his teammates.

Tucker is the only NFL kicker who's perfect this season. He's 27 for 27 on field goal tries — including seven from 50 yards or longer — and has nailed every one of his 15 conversions.

Booting on a soft grass field on a very windy day, Tucker hit field goals of 52, 57, 54 and 36 yards Sunday to carry the Ravens past the Cincinnati Bengals 19-14 .

"We've got the best kicker in the league. There's no doubt about it," Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said afterward. "But we've got to keep the young kid humble."

That's the prevailing theme in the locker room of the Ravens, who love their kicker, but go through great lengths to keep him in his place.

"There's no way to keep him down, man," quarterback Joe Flacco said.

All kidding aside, the Ravens (6-5) know they wouldn't be tied for first place in the AFC North without their unyieldingly reliable kicker. The offence has been limited to one or no touchdowns in six of 11 games, yet Tucker has been there to salvage just about every drive that sputters inside midfield. He's scored 96 points, a whopping 44 per cent of Baltimore's season total of 218.

"When our offence stalls out, we're still putting points on the board," linebacker C.J. Mosley said.

Tucker is paying solid returns on a four-year, $16.8 million contract he signed in July. The deal included an NFL-record for the position $10.8 million in guaranteed money.

One day before the agreement, Tucker — wearing the team's franchise tag — said he would leave the Ravens if the sides didn't work out a long-term deal.

"I told him, 'I've never seen a kicker make some contract demands, but I guess when you're the best kicker in the league, you can do that," Suggs reasoned.

Tucker does more than merely take a few kicks during the week and show up on Sunday. He works hard at his craft each day with special teams coach Jerry Rosburg, holder Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox. More often than not, kicking consultant Randy Brown will participate as well.

"It's imperative to have a consistent operation," Tucker said. "It starts with an accurate, fast, catchable snap like Morgan is able to do time and time again. Then it's important to have a holder who's confident in his hands, who won't hesitate in his movement. It's definitely a big part of the reason why I'm able to be confident kicking the ball."

The results are profound. Tucker has made 34 straight field goals, two short of Matt Stover's team record. He is on course to become one of only seven NFL kickers to complete a perfect season.

"He has a lot of confidence, and he's earned the confidence because he's worked so hard," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "He's talented. But we try to keep him in place and whip him into shape every now and then, make fun of him every opportunity we can. He's got just a great sense of humour and takes it well."

Kicking isn't Tucker's only talent. He also sings opera well enough to perform at various concert halls and charity events.

The guy's got a lot going for him, certainly more than the average football player.

"He's a 27-year-old guy, a performer, a very confident guy," Harbaugh said. "You can call it whatever you want in terms of cocky or confident. What's the balance there? I don't personally think he has a hint of arrogance in him at all. I think he's a fundamentally humble person who loves life, loves to perform."

Especially when the Ravens need a long field goal. Tucker insisted on trying that 57-yarder into the wind on Sunday, and believes on a good day he can blast one through the uprights from unprecedented lengths.

"It is in the realm of possibility for me, with Morgan and Sam, to hit the ball from well across midfield," he said. "We are talking about 70-75 yards. What matters is that we made the kicks we were sent out there to make (Sunday), and I will leave it at that."

One of these days, maybe even this season, Tucker will miss a kick. If that happens, it's a good bet that he will simply shrug it off and get ready for the next one.

"As a kicker, you have to be able to get over your last kick — whether it's bad or good — and be able to move on," Koch said. "He has the character that allows him to do that. He has fun. That's important."

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