In Sundays thrilling 19-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker showed why he is the team's 2016 MVP. Tucker connected with four field goals, including three in the first half that were 57, 54, and 52 yards. Tucker was a big reason why the Ravens snapped their 5-game losing streak to their AFC North rival. Funny enough, Tucker was front and center the last time the Ravens defeated the Bengals three years ago when he won it for Baltimore on a 46-yard field goal in overtime at M&T Bank Stadium. Tucker has been so vital to the Ravens in not just 2016, but for his entire 5-year career in Baltimore. It’s great to see Tucker play the way he has because kickers are becoming important in the NFL. Despite the fact that people look at kickers and say "they aren't real football players" the bottom line is you need a kicker to succeed. If you don't have one, you’re in trouble. The Ravens had the pleasure of not one, but two great kickers in their 21-year history. The first was an original Raven who spent 13 seasons wearing the purple and black. What Tucker is doing in 2016 with a struggling offense is nothing short of spectacular, but the first kicker in Ravens history did the same thing for practically his entire career in Baltimore.
Matt Stover was only second to Jamal Lewis in terms of putting points on the board for the Ravens in the early 2000's. You knew that if the Ravens were going to score, it was mostly going to be from Lewis or Stover. Not to mention the fact that Stover was one of those kickers you wanted with the game on the line. After spending his rookie season on injured reserve with the New York Giants in 1990, Stover signed with the Cleveland Browns where he would spend 5 seasons in Cleveland as the Browns moved to Baltimore. Baltimore would become the place where Stover made a name for himself in the NFL. Many Ravens fans will forever remember Stover for his incredible 2000 season where he was lights out; producing for an offense that couldn't score and would have a change at the quarterback position midseason. The Ravens did not score an offensive touchdown in the entire month of October during that season and Stover accounted for 49 consecutive points during the long drought. In 2000, Stover connected on 35-of-39 field goal attempts, notched his 1st Pro Bowl appearance, and earned AP All-Pro honors, helping the Ravens to their first Super Bowl championship. Without a doubt, Tucker's 2016 season is bringing back memories of Stover's 2000 season.
Stover's Raven highlights don't just stop in 2000. In 2006, during the Ravens 13-3 campaign, Stover led the team with 121 points, which was the third most in franchise history, while compiling his 10th-career 100-point season, and lead the NFL in field goal percentage at 93.3%. Tucker currently has kicked 34 straight field goals dating back to last year when the streak began against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 16, but Stover nailed 36 consecutive field goals from December 4th, 2005 all the way to November 19th of 2006. That streak is good for the 3rd-longest streak in NFL history. The longest belongs to Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who nailed 44 consecutive field goals.
On the other side of the coin, Justin Tucker has put up a pretty good resume so far in his 5-year career. Tucker was named Associated Press first-team All-Pro in 2013. He is the second fastest kicker in NFL history to reach 400 points and is the fastest kicker in NFL history to make 100 field goals, to go along with being the fastest kicker to 500 points. Tucker is currently the second most accurate kicker in NFL history at 89.7%. Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey tops the list at 90.6%. In Tuckers rookie season of 2012, his 90.9% field goal success rate is the second best by a rookie kicker in NFL history. Fellow 2012 rookie Blair Walsh holds that record at 92.2%. Which is probably further proof why the Ravens should be very thankful to have Tucker right now considering what has happened to Walsh.
All of these statistics are great for any kicker, but if there's one thing that truly defines the legacy of an NFL kicker, its their performance in the clutch. Kickers are like closers in baseball, one big blown save or missed kick, and they may be mentally done. Just ask Walsh, Mike Vanderjagt and of course, Billy Cundiff. Luckily the Ravens haven't had that problem when it came to Matt Stover and, so far, with Justin Tucker. Stover kicked 13 game-winning field goals during his 20-year career. Some of his most memorable game-winners as a Baltimore Raven include the 2003 epic comeback win over the Seattle Seahawks where he kicked the game-tying field goal to send the game into overtime. He then followed that up by kicking the game-winner to give the Ravens an improbable 44-41 win. He then proceeded to do the same thing in the 2003 season finale against the rival Steelers. He kicked a 46-yard field goal to send the game into overtime and then won it on a 47-yarder to give the Ravens their first AFC North division crown. Three years later in a Week 3 matchup against the Cleveland Browns, Stover connected with a 52-yard field goal with 29 seconds left to give the Ravens a 15-14 win in Cleveland and a 3-0 start to the 2006 season. Two years later, Stover gave his final bow to an amazing Baltimore Ravens career, as he nailed a game-winning 43-yard field goal to defeat the top seeded Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional playoff game that propelled the Ravens to their second AFC Championship game appearance.
Tucker has been pretty good in the clutch himself. In just 5 seasons, he has already connected with 10 game-winning field goals, with 6 of those coming on the road. We won't forget his first game-winner that came in just his third NFL game in 2012 as he notched a 27-yarder to give the Ravens an emotional 31-30 win over the New England Patriots in Baltimore. Later in the year against the San Diego Chargers, Tucker followed the infamous Ray Rice 4th-and-29 conversion with a game-tying 38-yard field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime, where he would later win it for the Ravens with 1:07 remaining in the overtime. The next year later, Tucker topped himself by smashing a 61-yard bomb on Monday Night Football to give the Ravens an 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions. Last year, he nailed the longest field goal by an opponent in the history of Heinz Field and tied Steelers kicker Jeff Reed for the longest field goal overall in that stadium. The sweetest part of it all was the fact that it was yet another Tucker game-winner from 52-yards in overtime to give the Ravens their first win of a frustrating 2015 campaign and the Heinz Field record.
Justin Tucker's golden moment however, came in his rookie season in the AFC Divisional playoff game on a cold and windy night in Denver. After Ravens cornerback Corey Graham picked off Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Tucker booked the Ravens a return trip to the AFC Championship game as he nailed a 47-yard game-winner in double overtime as the Ravens defeated the Broncos 38-35 in one of the best playoff games you'll ever see. Tucker, like Stover before him, helped propel the Ravens to a Super Bowl Championship.
These two have been unbelievable players and competitors for this organization. No matter what, you can always count on them whenever the offense is struggling and you need points on the board from them, or you just need to get that one last kick though the uprights to get you a win. I'm not asking who is the best kicker in Ravens history. Despite Tuckers success, it has only been five years and we all know that one miss could be the end. In my opinion, it's too early to debate who is better, but Justin Tucker really is making this tough.