Justin Tucker has had, by any measure, a superb rookie season for the Ravens. The kicker immediately and decisively validated the Ravens' decision to stick with the rookie over veteran Billy Cundiff, as Tucker went 6-for-6 in the first two games of the season, including a franchise record-tying 56-yarder at Philadelphia.
Tucker has since added a game-winner on the final play against New England, all the Ravens points in a sloppy 9-6 win at Kansas City, a game-tying kick on the final play of regulation at San Diego, followed by the game winner as well.
For the season, Tucker finished 30 for 33 on field-goal attempts, and his 90.9 percent success rate is the second-best by a rookie in NFL history.
Now, though, for the first time, Tucker enters the crucible that is the NFL playoffs, where as Cundiff and the Ravens know all too well, one missed kick can mean the end of the season.
Cundiff's rushed, missed 32-yarder in the closing seconds at New England finished the Ravens last season, costing them a chance to send the AFC Championship game to overtime.
Does Tucker feel any added pressure this week?
"You can't help but feel it a little bit," Tucker said, "but what (long snapper) Morgan (Cox), Sam (Koch) and I do is we try to treat every week the same. ... We're trying to treat this next week just like we have the last 17. Our preparation will not change, moreso than anything else because our job descriptions on the field don't change."
Tucker suffered a rare miss last week at Cincinnati, hooking a 45-yarder wide left.
"I just missed it," he said.
Later, Tucker hit a 49-yarder.
"I've always told myself the most important kick and the hardest one to make is the one right after a miss," he said. "Fortunately, we were able to go back out there and perform, but you gotta have amnesia when you play this game, regardless of what position you play. You could be a corner and get burned, you could be a QB and get picked, you could be a kicker and miss a ball. The most important one is the one after a miss."
This week, though, it's conceivable that the one after a miss won't come until next season. But special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said playoff pressure is never discussed with his group.
"I don’t have a conversation about pressure, ever, with specialists," Rosburg said. "Their job is to deal with the situations at hand, whether that be an end-of-the-game kick or the playoffs or a preseason game. That’s what they do – they’re pros."