Key Moment: Billy Cundiff’s field goal attempt sails wide
|01.22.12 at 8:22 pm ET|
As the Ravens drove down the field in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter in the AFC championship Game at Gillette Stadium, the fans in New England held their collective breath as Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco led the offense into the Patriots red zone, well within scoring range.
After a third-down incompletion by Flacco to tight end Dennis Pitta, kicker Billy Cundiff made his way onto the field with 15 seconds left for a 32-yard field goal attempt to tie the game up at 23, and Patriots owner Bob Kraft readily admitted to reporters after the game that he assumed the game was heading to overtime.
But as soon as the ball left Cundiff’s foot, it immediately started sailing to his left and wide of the far post. Patriots guard Brian Waters said after the game that he knew Cundiff missed because of the crowd’s reaction. This key moment ‘ the last play of the game (save for a Tom Brady kneel-down) ‘ proved decisive in propelling the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl appearance with Bill Belichick at the helm.
Flacco and the Ravens moved down the field and into position with under two minutes remaining. The Patriots defense held Ray Rice, the league’s total yardage leader, to just 46 yards on the ground through the first three quarters and 78 in the game.
After the game, Ravens punter Sam Koch said that heading out onto the field, everything felt normal for the special teams unit; the kick was just pulled a little bit too much.
‘It is just really unfortunate. I feel for Billy, and he put his heart and soul out there today and he wanted to go out there and win it for us, and it is just very unfortunate,’ Koch said. ‘It was just one of those things where it just happened to go off to the left. Everything felt fine; maybe a little bit of a rush. I haven’t really talked to him about it, but it will be something we will diagnose later to see what he thought about it.’
Cundiff wouldn’t have even had the opportunity if it weren’t for Patriots safety Sterling Moore. Moore broke up a sure touchdown catch by punching the ball from the hands of Lee Evans in the end zone a few plays earlier.
But when the kick sailed left and overtime was no longer going to be an option, the players from the Patriots sideline flooded the field in celebration. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis said that the team would have been ready, though, had the kick sailed through the uprights.
‘I wasn’t praying,’ he said. ‘If he had made it, we would have just come out and done what we had to do to try to win the game. Whatever we had to do; fourth quarter, overtime. Whatever it had been.’
Now, that mission will guide the Patriots as they await the winner of the 49ers-Giants contest to determine who New England will face on Feb. 5 in Super Bowl XLVI matchup in Indianapolis.