OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff needed an amateur groundskeeper to tend to the rough terrain at Heinz Field.
So, holder Sam Koch smoothed the dirt over with his cleats while Cundiff prepared for each kick.
The strategy was an effective one as Cundiff split the uprights on a 51-yard field goal as the clock expired in the first half to stake the Ravens to a three-point lead at halftime during a 23-20 victory Sunday night over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
By doing so, Cundiff joined some exclusive company. He became one of only three kickers to connect on a field goal over 50 yards since the opening of Heinz Field along with former Steelers kicker Jeff Reed and former San Francisco 49ers kicker Joe Nedney.
Cundiff's field goal is the second-longest ever at Heinz Field behind Reed's 52-yarder from last year.
"It's a testament to how bad the field is, that's all that is," Cundiff said with a smile Wednesday in the Ravens' locker room. "They play a lot of high school games there. They re-sodded it, played the Patriots and then a high school game and then a college game and our game. That's four games in about seven days."
Cundiff wound up hitting three of four field goals Sunday, rebounding from a missed 40-yard try in the first quarter that would have boosted the Ravens' lead to six points. He converted kicks from 18, 43 and 51 yards.
"If you look at the first kick I missed, I slipped out on my first step," Cundiff said. "Right away, I gave the turf too much credit. The way it was in pregame wound up being different once we started playing on it. Sam and I started lining it up early.
"He would get the plant spot and really pat it down with his cleats, and I would get ready for the path of the ball and get that down. That way, I know if I get my steps I can get a good strike on it. I missed that field goal, but I was able to respond."
Without Cundiff's clutch field goals in a narrow game, the Ravens probably don't beat the defending AFC champions.
Cundiff provided all nine of the Ravens' points in the first half after running back Ray Rice's 76-yard touchdown run was nullified by a questionable holding penalty on rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith.
"I think the one at the end of the half was probably the biggest one," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "That was huge for us because it was a 51-yarder, and I think there's only been four 50-plus yarders kicked there in history at Heinz Field.
"That shows you how tough it is. The footing was really tough. The first kick, I think his drive foot slipped a little bit, and that contributed to the push, but that was obviously huge."
With the exception of Cundiff's errant 40-yarder at Pittsburgh, all of his misses this season have been from beyond 50 yards . That includes misses from 52, 51 and 51 yards during games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the St. Louis Rams.
The 52-yarder in Jacksonville was way off, but Cundiff made the game-winner from 25 yards out the following week against the Arizona Cardinals.
"For me, it's just doing in a game what I do in practice on a consistent basis," Cundiff said. "I feel I've practiced well this year from 50-plus. It's just taking advantage of it in a game. In the game in Jacksonville, it was a tough situation. Stepping on the field, I wasn't in a good rhythm. That's not an excuse."
All of Cundiff's misses have been wide right this year, leading to various theories around town about what's been going on with his mechanics during an otherwise strong season.
"Each kick has been a little bit different," Cundiff said. ".Even though they've all been right, they've all been completely different things. I want to take that momentum from that made kick and move forward and start showing what I can do."
Cundiff made the Pro Bowl last season for the first time and was rewarded with a five-year, $14.7 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus.
He tied a franchise record shared by himself and Matt Stover with five field goals in a 29-14 win over the Houston Texans earlier this season, establishing a new Ravens record with seven touchbacks out of eight kickoffs.
Midway through the season, Cundiff has made 20 of 24 field goals for an 83.3 percent success rate after a 26 for 29 mark last season for an 89.7 percentage. He also set a franchise record with 40 touchbacks to tie Mitch Berger's NFL record from 1998.
Now, Cundiff's currently on pace to finish the year with 40 field goals. He has already scored 80 of the Ravens' 208 points this season.
"I'm one miss off my pace from last year, and, in my opinion, I've had much tougher kicks," Cundiff said. "Each situation is different. Some guys, you examine when and where they made their field goals.
"I would like to have a few misses back from 50-plus, but I feel like I'm well-prepared and ready for the second half of the season."
Notebook: Lewis and Clark receive hefty fines for hits
Evans returns to practice, Grubbs' toe undamaged
OWINGS MILLS - Baltimore Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis was fined $20,000 by the NFL for his devastating hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward.
And Steelers safety Ryan Clark, a repeat offender, was fined $40,000 for his hit on Ravens tight end Ed Dickson.
Lewis wasn't penalized for his helmet-to-helmet hit that left Ward dazed during the Ravens' 23-20 victory at Heinz Field. He didn't return to the game after suffering what the Steelers characterized as a stinger.
"Yeah, I heard from the league and like I said they fined me whatever they were going to fine me, but I'll definitely call it in," Lewis said. "The thing is you definitely respect them trying to protect players' safety. At the same time, it won't change not one way I play this week no matter what the fine is. You just can't stop playing defense the way defense has always been created to play.
"When the receiver has the ball, your job is to disengage him from the ball. You never want to hurt nobody. I've been in this business too long, so the last thing you want to do is hurt anyone.. I just think once you start getting into these fines, and I don't even know how they come up with the numbers most of the time, just get done with it. I'll talk to the league guys and move on from there."
Lewis said he didn't speak to Ward about the hit.
"No, talk to Hines for what?" Lewis said. "You don't have conversations after hits. You just keep moving."
GRUBBS UNHURT: Ravens offensive guard Ben Grubbs emerged unscathed during his first game back from a right turf toe injury that sidelined him for six games.
Grubbs made his return Sunday night, rejoining his teammates after five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode took his place since he suffered the injury in the season opener.
"It's not any worse, but it definitely still hurts," Grubbs said. "I'm able to maintain and I'll be able to continue to play this season. I'm glad I was in the game. I didn't want to be on the sideline during that win. I wanted to be in the action.
"I was thankful that I was able to get back out there and be a part of that big win. The guys said we needed you out there, but I needed them as much as they needed me. During that time of healing, I was in a rough place. I couldn't wait to get back out there."
A Pro Bowl alternate selection, Grubbs provided a boost to the offensive line against Pittsburgh.
"Ben's played guard all those years and is very familiar with our system, so things were a little smoother in there," coach John Harbaugh said. " Andre did a great job while he was in there, for what he had to overcome especially, to learn the position. Ben's the left guard, he's the starter, so it smoothed things out a little bit for us."
EVANS PRACTICES: Veteran wide receiver Lee Evans returned to practice after missing the past six games with a left ankle injury suffered during the preseason.
He was limited.
"Hopefully, we're going to try and see," Evans said. "We're going to go out and do a little bit and see what happens. It's been a while since I've been out there, so hopefully it feels good."
Evans has attempted to practice three to four times this season on a limited basis, but hasn't been able to advance to the point where he could play in a game or participate fully in practice.
"Yeah, you can just tell by soreness and also by the way it feels and looks running," Evans said. "If it's a tell-tale that you're not running effectively, then that's a sign."
However, Evans expressed optimism that he might be able to play this week.
"I think that's one of the things I'm running on right now is optimism and hoping that the process has taken its course hopefully, and we'll be alright," he said.
The biggest test is whether he can run full speed without pain.
"That's what we're going to see," Evans said. "You can't just be able to do one thing. It's a dynamic position, so you've got to be able to run, jump, cut, twist, fall and the whole nine. Just because I can run, doesn't mean that I can play the game. That's the bottom line."
Evans has caught two passes for 45 yards in two games while rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith has caught four touchdowns since replacing him in the lineup.
"Torrey has it, he's just refining it," Evans said. "As he continues to grow up and learns the game and if he continues to make plays, the sky is the limit for him."
Meanwhile, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo practiced on a limited basis with no contact following his mild concussion Sunday.
Ayanbadejo said he'll take a test Thursday and expects to be cleared for contact then. He said he doesn't remember everything about the game, though. Memory loss is a common symptom of a concussion.
"It's my first concussion, so I'm experiencing it for the first time," Ayanbadejo said. "I don't have those bad symptoms. I should be fine for this week."
Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring, groin) returned to practice Wednesday, but was limited as well as running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) and tight end Kris Wilson (calf).
Only one player didn't practice: six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk.
However, Birk has been given Wednesdays off several times this season to rest his neck or surgically-repaired knee.
Cornerback Chykie Brown (knee) participated fully.
Not practicing for the Seattle Seahawks: wide receiver Sidney Rice (foot), linebacker David Vobora (concussion) and tight end Cameron Morrah (toe, knee).
Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (pectoral) was limited.
RAVENS TRY OUT LB: The Ravens auditioned former New York Jets linebacker and special-teams contributor Lance Laury on Tuesday.
He wasn't signed to a contract, though.
Laury has previously played for the Seattle Seahawks after going undrafted out of South Carolina five years ago.
He has recorded 76 career tackles and two forced fumbles.
Laury played last season for the Jets and registered a dozen tackles and one pass deflection as he appeared in every game.
BYNES SIGNED: The Ravens signed rookie linebacker Josh Bynes to the practice squad.
Bynes signed with the Ravens in July after going undrafted out of Auburn, but was released during the final major roster cutdown after recording a pair of sacks in the preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons.
Bynes worked out for the Houston Texans earlier this season, but has been out of a job ever since Baltimore cut him.
"It's been real tough," Bynes said. "I'm excited to be back. I never wanted to leave. I'll take advantage of the opportunity. I love the system I wouldn't want to be nowhere else."
QUICK HIT: Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice joked that rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith owes him for his holding penalty that negated his 76-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage against Pittsburgh.
"I am still depressed in Torrey Smith right now," Rice said. "He didn't call me. I still could be in a state of depression. That was probably the longest run in Pittsburgh Steelers history at Heinz Field.
"There is a lot at stake, Torrey. You didn't even call to check on your boy. I still love you, Torrey. I am going to get you back one day."
The penalty was considered a shaky call.
"No, I thought it was a questionable call," Rice said. "I think the guy did a great job. Basketball guys flop, do a lot of different things, so I am not going to take that away from them. I am just glad we got the victory."
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