Last year, Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker hit the winning field goal as time expired against Texas A&M, the last in the 100-plus year history of the rivalry, as a member of the Texas Longhorns.
More than 88,000 fans, mostly rooting against him, watched as the senior walked out onto the field and calmly drilled a 40-yard kick for a 27-25 win on Thanksgiving Night. That evening was to prove undergraduate study for his professional career.
On Saturday, the Texas native again put through the game winner, this time in the second overtime of an NFL divisional playoff game against Denver to propel the Ravens to a 38-35 victory. The win sends Baltimore to their second straight AFC Championship game appearance.
The 47-yard kick by the rookie continued a stellar season that began improbably in May when the Ravens’ signed him as an undrafted free agent.
Tucker arrived in camp and proceeded to beat out incumbent Billy Cundiff. It was Cundiff’s missed 32-yard field goal in the AFC Championship Game against New England last year that abruptly ended the Ravens’ 2011 campaign.
The rookie, who made 17 of 21 attempts as a senior for the Longhorns, earned the job by hitting six of seven in preseason. He went on to make 30 of 33 in the regular season, providing the margin of victory in five of the Ravens’ wins.
He added a field goal last week in the Ravens’ 24-9 playoff win against the Colts in Baltimore.
By the time Tucker took the field at Mile High the temperatures had dropped to single digits. Just minutes earlier, in between overtime periods, he warmed up by trotting out with kicking coach Randy Brown and launching a practice kick as the teams switched ends of the field.
“Usually at the change of the quarter, you don’t see people out there kicking a ball, but we figured no one has told us not to do it before, so we’ll go hit one,” Tucker said.
The extra kick also gave him the opportunity to adjust to the surface. “It’s different kicking on the sideline where the grass is green and lush…as opposed to the field where it’s straight mud at a certain point.”
The winning score was set up by Corey Graham’s interception of a Peyton Manning pass at Denver’s 45-yard line. On the play Manning scrambled right to avoid the Ravens’ Paul Kruger and threw back across his body toward wide receiver Brandon Stokley. Graham tailed Stokley and turned to catch Manning’s errant throw as he fell to the ground.
Earlier, the Ravens staked their way to overtime when quarterback Joe Flacco hit wide receiver Jacoby Jones on a 70-yard strike with less than a minute to play. Jones beat Denver cornerback Tony Carter up the right sideline as Flacco stepped up in the pocket and released from his own 25.
On the play, Flacco avoided pressure in the pocket by scrambling up field between the hash marks. As he did, Denver safety Rahim Moore momentarily opened his hips toward the Ravens’ Anquan Boldin running a shorter post route over the middle.
As Moore turned back to the outside, his late recovery allowed Jones to drift past his outstretched arms and haul in Flacco’s pass at Denver’s 20 before covering the distance to the goal line.
On the afternoon Flacco was 18 of 34 for 331 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Maryland product Torrey Smith. On the defensive side of the ball Ray Lewis played a major role in extending his Hall of Fame career by at least another week, totaling 17 tackles for the Ravens.
The Ravens victory overshadowed the efforts of Broncos’ return man Trindon Holliday. Holliday returned Baltimore’s first punt of the game 90 yards for a score and later opened the second half by taking Tucker’s kickoff 104 yards for his second touchdown.