About an hour after the Ravens’ OTA wrapped up last Wednesday, Billy Cundiff found himself surrounded by a horde of reporters. Cameras and microphones extended to pick up what the Ravens kicker had to say in one of his first public appearances since he played a pivotal role in ending the team’s 2011 season short of the Super Bowl.
Back in January’s AFC championship, Cundiff had a chance to draw Baltimore even with the New England Patriots in the final seconds. All he had to do was clear the uprights with a routine 32-yard boot.
And he couldn’t do it, as he sailed the ball wide left.
One kneel later, Tom Brady and the Patriots were headed to the Super Bowl after a 23-20 win over the Ravens.
Cundiff, an All-Pro in 2010 and one of the NFL’s more efficient kickers over the last two seasons, said his confidence wasn’t shaken by that memorable miss.
“I think it’s as high as it’s ever been,” Cundiff said last week. “I know I’ll take my stats in the fourth quarter. If you look at it, that was the first miss I had as a Baltimore Raven in the playoffs, I think it’s the first kick I missed all year in the fourth quarter. So I think the situation was pretty unique. So I’ll learn what I can from it, keep my confidence high and go back out there and get better.”
Over his two full seasons with Baltimore, Cundiff has converted 81.8 percent of his attempts, including a remarkable 89.8 percent (53-for-59) from inside 50 yards.
In 2011, he set a career high with 122 points. During the regular season, he has made all 14 of his fourth-quarter tries since 2010. And until booting wide against the Patriots, he had been 11-for-11 for the Ravens in the playoffs.
With all that in mind, Cundiff said the way his year ended wouldn’t affect his offseason approach.
“I don’t think what happened in January is really going to change the way that I prepare, to be perfectly honest with you,” he said. “For me, the focus this offseason was getting healthy No. 1 and then No. 2 was working on my long field goals. So if you look at my stats, as I started to go through stuff, inside of 50 the last two years, I’ll take it against anybody. Even this year, I think inside of 50 I was about 87 percent.
“So I thought that there was some things I could improve there. But I think the real glaring weakness was on the long field goals. So for me, making sure I take that weakness and turn it into a strength was the big focus of the offseason.”
It would be understandable if Cundiff avoided watching replays of the AFC title tilt. However, he hasn’t been able to.
“You can’t really avoid it,” he said. “But it’s not something that for me, I’m not trying to avoid it. It’s like other kicks I’ve missed in my career. I know what happened. I don’t need to be reminded of it. I think it’s a learning experience and you’ve just got to put it with everything else. Morten Anderson taught me from a conversation I had with him, he would say, ‘Leave the foot, leave the mind.’ So that’s kind of the attitude that I’ve taken.”
But has Cundiff learned anything from what could turn into a career-changing moment?
“I learned a little bit in the sense of there’s certain things I’d like to change,” he said. “But I think the big lesson ... is control what you can control. So I think it’s all about moving forward. That’s the big thing for me. I know that I would’ve liked to make that kick, but at the same time, it didn’t happen, just like there were other kicks in my career that I haven’t made. Just like a bunch of other kickers, you look around and there’s been very few guys that have been able to go perfect the whole year. So until you can go perfect, that’s always the goal.”
Cundiff also shared that he’s been working with the same sports psychologist since 2007 and has worked with various ones over the course of his career.
So it’s not like he just began seeing one because he missed the potential tying kick in the AFC championship.
“We kind of take the idea that you work on things in the offseason,” Cundiff said. “He’s not there as a shrink. He’s not there to analyze my emotions. He’s there to create a game plan I think. He was one of the guys that was a big influence on me when I was out of football (from 2007-08). We were going over things that I could improve on and so when I got back into football, I felt like I was more mentally strong and obviously that carried over into the last couple seasons.”
Since January, Cundiff said the public response has been positive and so has the support from the organization.
“What happened in New England is what happened in New England,” Cundiff said. “So you kind of move on and I think that it doesn’t change my preparation, it doesn’t change anything I do. If anything, it shows that I’ve got the confidence to keep going because I’m standing here.
“The team doesn’t have anybody else here, the team believes in me. Coach has been really positive with me throughout the offseason. Management has been great. So now it’s just a matter of going out and continuing to get better, and that’s the goal.”