New England Patriots

Since his rookie season, when he helped beat the Patriots in the 2012 AFC Championship, Baltimore's Justin Tucker has become the most reliable kicker in NFL history. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

  • Let’s get straight to the points, the way each kicker in Sunday’s Patriots-Ravens encounter consistently does.

    Lining up for New England is Nick Folk, the 37-year old in his 15th NFL season overall and fourth with the Pats. Last Sunday at Pittsburgh, he capped the opening drive with a 28-yard field goal.

    In putting the Patriots ahead, 3-0, Folk matched ex-Tennessee Titan Ryan Succup with a record 56th straight made field goal attempt inside of 50 yards. His last miss under 50 was a 45-yard try vs. Miami in the 2020 opener.

    Then there’s Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, subject of a recently-aired 60 Minutes story whose voice as a tenor belts out operatic arias in seven different languages and right leg as a kicker booms field goals from as far away as 66 yards and more accurately than anyone else in NFL annals.

    Tucker’s record .911 career field goal percentage includes 59 consecutive makes in the fourth quarter and overtime. He’s 16-for-16 in the final minute of regulation and 5-for-5 in OT.

    Since signing with Baltimore in 2012, undrafted out of the University of Texas, Tucker’s become the fastest player to 300 career field goals and 1,000 points. His 1,374 career points in 10-plus seasons trail only the 1,464 points by Ravens’ all-time leader Matt Stover, who kicked in Baltimore for 13 seasons from 1996-2008.

    On Friday, Bill Belichick who’s coached future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri, franchise leading scorer Stephen Gostkowski and the aforementioned Folk here in New England, contextualized Tucker’s career.

    “He’s reset that position by probably a pretty decent amount. This isn’t like being 200th of a second under the world record,” Belichick said of Tucker, the Usain Bolt of place kickers. “This guy’s really reset the bar. No miss kicks, accuracy is very good, distance, range. He really shortens the field. He makes the field about ten yards shorter than most everybody has it. Not just with his leg strength, but the fact of his accuracy and how good he is from long range as well.

    “He and Stover have had tremendous careers and he’s come in and just kind of one upped it. Lot of good kicking there for a long time…Thirty years of having a really good kicker, two guys, that’s pretty good and counting. [Justin] Tucker’s still got a year or two left.

    Or five, after this. In August, Tucker signed a four-year, $24 million extension that runs through the 2027 season.

  • Yakety YAC 

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 28: Jalen Mills #2 of the New England Patriots breaks up a pass intended to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine #15 of the Tennessee Titans in the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    A focal point for Jalen Mills and the Patriots will be preventing the Ravens from yards after the catch. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Through the first two weeks, Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson averaged a league-high 14.0 yards gained per pass completion and 8.67 net yards per pass attempt. Belichick looks at such numbers after film study as figures affected by yards after the catch.

    “I think the play to [Rashod] Bateman was a 7-yard pass, goes 75 [yards],” he said of Jackson’s first touchdown pass last Sunday vs. Miami. “But, that’s what they are. They’re a catch and run team.

    “But they can also throw over the top and they throw immediate RPO’s and those kinds of things. Lot of bootlegs, cross boots, those are short passes that the catch and run plays can turn into bigger plays.”

    In Miami for the opener, the Pats were burned by Jaylen Waddle’s catch and run for a late first-half score. But in Week 2, they prevented the Steelers from turning short throws into long gains. Cornerback Jalen Mills was pleased with the way he and his teammates executed a point of emphasis in Pittsburgh.

    “You see them, last game to last season, getting the ball whether it’s a slant, a stop, a fade, whatever it may be, making two or three guys miss and getting an extra seven, eight, 15 yards,” said Mills, who helped limit Diontae Johnson to 9.5 yards a reception. “That was my biggest thing was (understanding) he’s going to catch the ball. He’s a great receiver. When I line up against him, just (want) to make sure once he catches it, I get him down.”

    That’s a must Sunday, especially opposite either Bateman or Devin Duvernay, who caught two touchdown passes in Baltimore’s season-opening win over the Jets.

  • These aren’t the Lewis-Reed Ravens

    JPP

    The Ravens signed Jason Pierre-Paul in an effort to improve their pass rush. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

    As you know, the Ravens were reeling late last Sunday, with a banged-up secondary unable to stop the Dolphins. Miami’s four fourth-quarter drives totaled 21 plays, 266 yards, 10 first downs and four touchdowns in 7 1/2 minutes of possession. 

    While Marcus Peters (knee) was playing his first game at cornerback since the 2020 playoffs, Marlon Humphrey (groin) left before the Dolphins’ game-winning drive and Brandon Stephens (quad) was out the entire game.

    Short of personnel deep, Baltimore’s secondary was exposed, while its front recorded just one sack and two quarterback hits. Surprisingly, given the Ravens’ defensive tradition dating to the Ray Lewis-Ed Reed days, that’s been a recurring problem the past year-plus.

    Baltimore’s sack rate (3.7%) ranks 26th through two games of 2022. It ranked 28th, at 5.5%, in 2021.

    So efforting to improve, the Ravens signed former Giant and Buccaneer Jason Pierre-Paul, a three-time Pro Bowler who at age 33 is coming off just 2 1/2 sacks last season, followed by shoulder surgery in February.

    Bob Socci is in his 10th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.