OWINGS MILLS – Billy Cundiff entered this season regarded as a journeyman kicker in NFL circles.
Following an impressive preseason where he handily beat out former Pro Bowl selection Shayne Graham, Cundiff is having a Pro Bowl caliber season and could be changing old perceptions.
Cundiff has connected on 17 of 20 field goals, hitting 85 percent of his attempts. And he leads the NFL with 29 touchbacks, knocking 56.9 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone.
"If he’s not a Pro Bowl guy, I don’t know who is in the AFC as a kicker," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
However, Cundiff is unlikely to make the Pro Bowl. He doesn’t rank in the top five among the fans with Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski atop the Pro Bowl balloting.
He ranks sixth in the AFC in field goals with Tennessee Titans kicker Rob Bironas leading the league in accuracy by making 19 of 20 field goals.
Miami Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter is the reigning AFC Pro Bowl kicker and has hit 22 of 25 field goals, but has only nine touchbacks.
Regardless of whether he garners all-star distinction, Cundiff is having a stellar season.
His latest performance was impressive, hitting three field goals during a 37-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
And Cundiff’s 49-yard kick sealed the game in the fourth quarter, giving the Ravens a 10-point lead before a pair of interceptions for touchdowns overshadowed his boot.
"It kind of got lost in all the conversation after the game, that kick," Harbaugh said. "Here we are in a one-score game, we moved the ball down the field and end up getting stopped there. We had that scuffle on the sideline, and Billy runs out there and makes a 49-yard kick on a soft field. That was a heck of a kick, and that was huge because it took it to 10 points."
Cundiff also knocked in a 49-yard kick in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns, another key three points for the Ravens.
This was another clutch situation for Cundiff.
"To go back to that moment, we hadn’t been playing very well," Cundiff said. "We were essentially slugging it out with a team we should have been beating. It was a good chance for me to get out there and make a big kick and show them they can depend on me. It was similar to the Cleveland game. I was happy to able to get that opportunity."
Against Carolina, Cundiff sent seven of his eight kickoffs into the end zone with four touchbacks.
Trailing late in the game, the Panthers decided to bring out a few deep kickoffs to try to make something happen.
"I felt it was a good chance for me to swing away on a nice day," Cundiff said. "The last two balls they brought out, they were trying to force the issue. I understand what they were trying to do. I wish we had a few more touchbacks, but it was a good day for us. It was fun."