Tucker could be key in AFC Championship

BALTIMORE - His performance this season can be described in one word. It's that one word that fans, coaches and players hope to avoid, but his track record in regards to that word is better than good.

Clutch.

As the Baltimore Ravens prepare to head to Foxborough , Mass they are expecting Justin Tucker to be ready.

It's a situation that would give many rookies the shakes, but it shouldn't be too much of a difference for Tucker.  In his inaugural season he made 30 of 33 field goals attempted, and he made every extra point. He's been called upon more than once in the final moments of a game, and been reliable.

That's what the Ravens need against the Patriots. Though the spread is forecast at 9.5 in the favor of the guys in blue, red and grey, three of the last four games between the two teams have been decided by three or less points.

Former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff missed a field goal in last year's AFC Championship that would have tied the game and possibly spelled a different outcome. He was later cut from the team. Tucker had big shoes to fill, and there were definitely some that doubted the undrafted rookie would be able to perform under pressure.

Instead, Tucker has accomplished for the Ravens what's expected of veteran Pro Bowl kickers. In fact, fans, players and reporters in Baltimore argue he was snubbed for the Pro Bowl this season.

In addition to getting points on the board when needed, Tucker has been invaluable to the Ravens' defense. More than half of his kickoffs during the regular season were kept in the endzone or kicked out of the back of the endzone. It's a percentage that's better than Phil Dawson's – the placekicker chosen to represent the AFC in the 2013 Pro Bowl.

Pressure? Repeat of Cundiff Sunday?

It's something the Ravens practice with Tucker regularly. Earlier this week, head coach John Harbaugh said he has confidence in Tucker's ability to perform in such clutch situations.

"He's a confident guy, and he has good reason to be confident," Harbaugh said. "He works really hard at what he does, and he has a lot of talent. He's a guy that is looking for the next challenge."

Tucker spoke of his confidence at practice Wednesday. He said it's something he's built over the course of the season.

"Over the course of an entire season we get to develop this routine. I'm a different kicker now than I was a year ago when I came in here at the beginning of training camp," he said.

"Even now, I'm a different kicker than I was week one when we played Cincinnati at home. I've learned some things about myself technically that I've been able to adjust or enhance or what have you.  The confidence comes from knowing that we're going to be successful because of the work that we've done over the course of a number of weeks."

While it's a situation Ravens fans hope to avoid in attempt to prevent cardiac arrest, Tucker's next challenge, based on previous matchups, could be much like the win over Denver last week.

Clutch.

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