Patriots 23, Ravens 20

2. The Ravens have an agonizing decision to make about Billy Cundiff going forward. Everyone from John Harbaugh to Terrell Suggs handled questions about Cundiff's inexplicable 32-yard miss with class on Sunday. It was pretty admirable, especially when you compare it to the way the Jets imploded and began pointing fingers when their season ended. (Just more evidence that, even if you're not Harbaugh's biggest fan, you have to concede what a better choice he was to lead this organization than Rex Ryan. And I say that as someone who really likes Rex Ryan.) But as classy as the Ravens were, and as impressive as it was to see Cundiff stand up and field every question like a man instead of hiding in the training room, the decision of whether or not he can be your kicker next season is going to be extremely difficult. I really like and admire Cundiff as a person, I think the second act of his career is one of the best stories in the NFL, but if I'm objective about the situation, I don't see how you can bring him back and just assume this will make him stronger, and that he'll grow from this. That would make for a great story, but the harsh reality of sports suggests this could linger for a long time. Even though Cundiff still has a strong leg, he didn't give the Ravens a lot of reason to trust him on field goals of 50 yards or more this year. That's ultimately why they went for it on 4th down in fourth quarter instead of electing to let him try a 51-yard field goal. So he can't kick long field goals anymore, and his kickoffs aren't quite as booming as they once were. How do you now trust him with a game on the line? What happens the next time he misses, and fans are immediately reminded of what happened in Foxborough? Kicking is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental. Cundiff is a tough guy, but that was the kind of miss that has broken more accomplished kickers. When he went through his midseason slump, I said in this column the idea the Ravens should release him was "laughable." The readers who were advocating for Cundiff's release and accusing me of being blind to the realities certainly got the last laugh. I actually think the Ravens coaching staff -- and ultimately this is on Harbaugh -- made a real error in not calling a timeout before his field goal attempt, because it was obvious Cundiff had to rush just a bit to get on the field. He was down the sideline, kicking into a net, a long jog from the offense when Flacco's pass to Dennis Pitta was broken up, and it seemed like the field goal unit was a little late getting set up. Sam Koch even admitted in the locker room that things felt a little rushed. But ultimately, the kicker has to make that kick 100 times out of 100. Cundiff looked understandably crushed during his postgame interview, but he didn't shy away from a single question. When asked if he felt like he needed to say something to his teammates, Cundiff pointed out how empty his words would sound. "To be honest with you, I don't think they want to hear an apology," he said. "They laid it out there, and I laid it out there. Sometimes it's not good enough. When you play long enough, you're going to have games where things just don't go your way. That's the reason you play this game. You want to lay it all out there. You don't get this kind of adrenaline rush sitting behind a desk, with this kind of pressure. It's what comes with the territory." But if the pressure consumes you in a big moment, does it consume you forever? That's what Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh have to ask themselves.

Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam
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