Sports

Justin Tucker’s Record-Breaking Field Goal Was a Thing of Destiny

Is Justin Tucker better at football than Patrick Mahomes? It’s difficult to say. Let’s take a look at the film.

OK, there’s Justin Tucker winning the game for his team with a 66-yard field goal—that’s an NFL record. That seems pretty good.

Oh, that’s interesting. There’s Patrick Mahomes throwing a pass—went about 66 yards downfield, too—that didn’t win the game for his team. But film isn’t everything. Let’s take a look at the analytics.

Wow. Since 2016, Tucker is 18 percent more likely to make a field goal than the average kicker and 5 percent more likely than the next closest kicker. I wonder how Mahomes matches up in completion percentage over expected (CPOE).

Hmm. Mahomes doesn’t even lead all passers in CPOE since 2017. And at 3.9 percentage points above expectation, he’s not even close to Tucker’s 18 percentage points above expectation.

Well, the verdict is in: Justin Tucker is better at football than Patrick Mahomes. (I’m only kinda joking.)

We often say that Mahomes changes the very nature of the sport with the way he extends plays, creates throws out of nothingness, and bends the laws of space and time. But Tucker often does the same thing. And on Sunday, he broke the rules of offense. With the Ravens facing a fourth-and-19 from their own 16-yard line with no timeouts, the Lions’ win percentage was exactly 99.9 percent, per ESPN. Despite the odds, the Ravens’ first reality-breaker, Lamar Jackson, hit a 36-yard bomb to Sammy Watkins. Watkins should have immediately gotten out of bounds, but in the moment of confusion and excitement, he was tackled on the field. Given the insurmountable odds, this little mistake and the 11 seconds it cost Baltimore should have been the Ravens’ death knell.

But with a kicker like Tucker, it wasn’t. The Ravens spiked the ball at the opponent’s 48-yard line, and somehow, someway, they had a glimmer of hope. Tucker is not just ludicrously automatic, as Next Gen Stats detailed above: He’s also been preparing for 60-plus yard field goals for quite some time. In 2017, Kevin Clark met with the Ravens’ place-kicking battery— holder Sam Koch, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, long snapper Morgan Cox, and of course, Tucker—to discuss the possibility of breaking this very record. As Koch, who held for Tucker on the 66-yarder today, said back then: “There’s no scenario where you’re going to line up and do it … However, I have no doubt Justin would go out there and make the kick.” Tucker and Co. were speaking more specifically about attempting a 70-plus-yard field goal, and while Tucker may not get that opportunity any time soon, hitting a game-winning 66-yarder certainly gives you a nice leg to stand on the next time you beg for the chance.

It almost was a 71-yard attempt, and it arguably should have been. On the snap before the kick was attempted, the Ravens took the play clock all the way down to double zeros and a little beyond it, too.

The goal on this play was to pick up a few more yards and to make Tucker’s game-winning attempt something less than a record-setter. Instead, this play almost lost Tucker the opportunity altogether. Had the penalty been called, I’m not sure Tucker would have been given the chance to attempt the kick. And if he had, it probably would have missed. It took an absurdly fortuitous bounce, almost directly up off of the crossbar, for the 66-yarder to even clear the uprights.

From Watkins’s mistake to the missed delay of game to Jackson’s incompletion to the perfect bounce, it was like the stars aligned for Tucker to set the field goal record. If that all feels impossibly preordained, just wait until you learn that the previous record holder for longest-made kick, ex-Lion and current Cardinal Matt Prater, attempted a would-be record 68-yarder in Jacksonville only a couple of hours earlier. That kick also resulted in points scored! Just not in the way the Cardinals were hoping.

And if all that seems impossibly coincidental and hilarious, let’s take a look at the only other 60-plus yard field goal Tucker has ever hit.

That’s a game-winner against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, folks. Eight years ago.

The NFL is pretty weird, and Tucker is pretty incredible. I’m not sure that he’s actually better than Mahomes, because it’s a lot easier for me to understand just how good Mahomes is at quarterbacking than just how good Tucker is at kicking. But he’s arguably a better kicker than Mahomes is a quarterback, and even if you don’t agree with that, you have to admit he’s … underrated? A cheat code? Whatever you want to call him, he holds one of the league’s coolest records now, and I imagine that it’s a record that will stand for quite some time. Kudos to Tucker, the Mahomes of place-kicking.


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