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Is Billy Cundiff off the hook because of a scoreboard error?

January 24, 2012 | 10:07 am

Billy Cundiff

Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt that would have sent the Baltimore Ravens' AFC Championship Game Sunday against the New England Patriots into overtime.

The kicker took full responsibility for the loss, but also said he had to rush onto the field because he thought the scoreboard at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro said it was third down instead of fourth. Ravens officials reviewed video of the game Monday and confirmed that the scoreboard at the Patriots' home stadium did, in fact, show the incorrect down.

So does that mean Cundiff is off the hook? Or is there no excuse for not being prepared to do what you're paid to do, especially when the stakes are so high?

Writers from around the Tribune Co. will discuss whether the scoreboard error is a legitimate explanation for Cundiff's miss or just another excuse. Check back throughout the day for more responses and join the discussion by leaving a comment of your own.

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times

Cundiff can make that kick in his sleep -– and I imagine he will be re-kicking it in his sleep for years to come. But I’m not dismissing his explanation. From his description of his routine to Deadspin, it sounds like a very methodical process that begins on first down and ends when he’s splitting the uprights.

If the tape indeed shows that the scoreboard operator was off by a down, therefore disrupting Cundiff’s down-by-down process, that could legitimately be a factor in the miss. Cundiff looked rushed on the field, and the Ravens just got the snap off before the play clock expired. Do I think the scoreboard operator had nefarious intentions? That’s a reach. But that operator -– just like Cundiff -– failed to do his job well in a pressure situation.

Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune

The scoreboard error in the AFC Championship Game explains why Billy Cundiff was rushed onto the field and didn’t have his usual preparation routine in the seconds before his field goal attempt to tie the game. But ultimately, it doesn’t explain why Cundiff missed the 32-yard attempt. 

Kickers need to be able to get the ball through the uprights even when there are inaccurate snaps, bad holds, annoying timeouts by the opposition, sloppy fields, loud crowds, high winds and, yes, scoreboard errors. The best kickers can block out everything that swirls around them, especially in the moments that decide the biggest games.

It’s unfortunate everything wasn’t perfect for Cundiff’s kick, but everything isn’t often perfect in NFL games, or in life. The ability to overcome is what makes a champion.

Craig Davis, South Florida Sun Sentinel

The scoreboard-made-me-miss explanation points to the fragility of the psyche of the NFL kicker and shows why teams bother to “ice the kicker” with desperation timeouts. Considering the Ravens were disorganized and scrambling to try a season-saving field goal, Coach John Harbaugh should be kicking himself for not calling a timeout. So should kicker Billy Cundiff.

To his credit, Cundiff took responsibility for missing the 32-yarder that should have sent Sunday’s AFC Championship into overtime, and teammates have been supportive. But it’s doubtful hard-nosed veterans such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed care to hear about their kicker having his routine disrupted by the scoreboard showing the wrong down.

Cundiff had just one thing to do in those waning seconds: get ready for what amounted to a chip shot. He wasn’t. As Peyton Manning eloquently characterized a head-case he played with: “Idiot kicker.”

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Photo: Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff walks off the field after missing a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the AFC Championship Game. Credit: Matt Slocum / Associated Press

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