‘A Perfect Storm’: Inside Justin Tucker’s Record-Setting Field Goal

Ravens Justin Tucker

Getty Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker lines up to attempt the longest field goal in NFL history against the Detroit Lions.

Everything had to be perfect for Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker to make the longest field goal in NFL history on Sunday against the Detroit Lions: the in-game situation, the snap, the hold and of course, the kick.

After all, it almost never makes sense to attempt a field goal longer than 65 yards; the chances of it splitting the uprights are so slim that a Hail Mary to the end zone might be a more attractive option. Plus, the other team could always return a kick that fell short, as the Arizona Cardinals found out on Sunday.

So how did the Ravens find themselves attempting a 66-yard field goal against the Lions? Well, it all starts with Tucker.

The 31-year-old kicker has spent most of his NFL career telling anyone who would listen that he could make the longest kick in league history. That confidence is vital to attempting such a long field goal; how could he make the kick if he didn’t believe that he was capable?

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“He does have kind of the perfect personality for the job,” said head coach John Harbaugh of his All-Pro kicker on Monday, “He likes the stage. He’s not afraid of it, he relishes it.”

Tucker has plenty of reason to be confident. Heading into Sunday’s game, he was already the most accurate kicker in NFL history and one of only 14 to ever make a field goal over 60 yards. Incidentally, his then-career-high was a 61-yarder that won a 2013 game against the Lions at Ford Field.

Tucker was also making 60-yarders with ease during pregame warmups.

Tucker knew he could break the record, a belief shared by many in the Ravens organization.

‘You Don’t Try Them Under Normal Circumstances’

But even having the best man for the job isn’t enough to attempt a record-long field goal. The circumstances of the game would have to be perfect to even line up for the kick.

As Kevin Clark of The Ringer explained in 2017, “The game situation would have to be exactly right: about a second left in the fourth quarter with the score within three or at the end of a half, when it’s the only option.”

Even when those criteria are met, many coaches, including the relatively-progressive staff of the Ravens, hesitate to send out the field goal unit. Tucker was held back from attempting a 72-yarder in a preseason game against the Miami Dolphins in 2017.

The outcome of a preseason game is meaningless! It wouldn’t matter if the Dolphins returned the kick for a touchdown, but the coaches kept him on the sidelines anyway. 

“You don’t try them under normal circumstances,” said Harbaugh, “it’s gotta be the perfect storm.”

When asked if he would’ve let Tucker attempt a 67- or 68-yard field goal, Harbaugh responded, “Honestly, probably not. I don’t know how you make a 68-yarder.”

Even Tucker’s closest friend on the team, punter and holder Sam Koch, said, “There’s no scenario in which you’re going to line up and do it.”

But Sunday provided the perfect opportunity to break the record, with the Ravens down by one point with three seconds on the clock at the Lions’ 48-yard line. So Tucker and the field goal unit took the field with the game on the line and lined up for a 66-yard field goal.

‘As Soon As It Left My Foot, I Knew It Would Have a Chance’

So much of football is based on routine, but no element of the game is more regimented than a field goal. The long snapper, holder, and kicker must all work in perfect concert to deliver the ball through the uprights. Regardless of distance, the process is exactly the same.

Still, a 66-yarder is not just another kick. Next Gen Stats calculated that Tucker had just a 10.4% of converting the attempt.

It starts with a long snap that travels about eight yards behind the line of scrimmage to the holder. Up until this season, Morgan Cox had snapped almost every single one of Tucker’s kicks, but this offseason, the Ravens let the 35-year-old go, installing Nick Moore as the team’s long snapper.

Moore told teammate Marlon Humphrey that he was “pretty nervous” for his first game-winning long snap. But once it left his hands, Moore was confident that Tucker would make the kick.

Humphrey also interviewed Koch on the plane back to Maryland after the game.

“The snap held itself. It came out just perfect,” said Koch, who has been Tucker’s holder for the former Texas Longhorn’s entire career. The 39-year-old punter barely had to move to catch the ball and set it, laces out, for Tucker to kick

But even with a perfect snap and a perfect hold, the kick itself is the most vital part.

Tucker has said in the past that he wouldn’t make any major changes to attempt such a long field goal, but he did slightly adjust his technique on Sunday, lining up a few feet further back than normal for the extra ‘oomph’ needed for such a long kick. Harbaugh compared Tucker’s altered run-up to the famous golf swing from “Happy Gilmore.” 

This sideline angle of the kick shows Tucker line up at his normal depth before taking two steps back.

“When’s you’re that far, you have to abandon some of your technique,” Tucker said after the game, per Jonas Shaffer of The Baltimore Sun.

But the extra steps were just as thought out as every other part of the process.

“I was short from 65 pregame both ways, for whatever reason I just couldn’t get the ball to just go,” said Tucker, “Thankfully we found an extra yard-and-a-half that I didn’t have three hours before, and I’m grateful for that.”

As it turns out, Tucker needed every bit of power he could get, as the kick bounced off the crossbar and barely made it through the uprights. He estimated that his margin of error on the kick was about a quarter of an inch, or 2% of the tip-to-tip length of a standard NFL football.

“As soon as it left my foot I knew it would have a chance,” said Tucker, who was instantly mobbed by his teammates after the referees signaled that the kick was good.

But after the kick, Tucker and Koch seemed to treat the longest made field goal in NFL history like just another day at the office.

They shook hands and simply said, “Way to do your job.”

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