Stover on top of his game

OWINGS MILLS -- It wasn't perfection. Not every booted football split the uprights. Not every snap was crisp, accurate or exactly timed. Yet, everything was more than close to perfect enough to satisfy meticulous Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover, the league's most accurate kicker and resident amateur meteorologist.

With only two missed field goals, one on the heels of a botched snap by long snapper Matt Katula in a 13-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Stover converted 28 of 30 attempts. With a 93.3 percentage, Stover ranks just ahead of Denver Broncos kicker Jason Elam (27 for 29) for accuracy.

It couldn't have happened without the contributions of Katula or rookie punter Sam Koch, who operated as if he had been holding for Stover for years.

"There's always a couple glitches, a few kicks you wish you could have back, but, at the same time, going 28 for 30 this year, means that those two guys in front of me did a great job for me and the line never had a ball blocked," Stover said. "And that's huge. It takes 10 other guys besides myself going out there.

"Consistency is really what this game comes down to, opportunity and consistency. And these guys and myself were really able to get that done." With Stover on top of his game, the AFC North champion Ravens (13-3) are the No. 2 seed in the AFC and earned a first-round bye. They will host an AFC divisional playoff next weekend at M&T Bank Stadium against either the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots or New York Jets.
Stover was particularly indispensable in a narrow September victory over the Cleveland Browns when he nailed the game-winning field goal.
Stover, the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history who turns 39 on Jan. 27, connected on four field goals Sunday in a 19-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills. It was a performance reminiscent of how he carried the brunt of the scoring workload during the Ravens' Super Bowl title run during the 2000 season.

"That's really what it came down to, putting up enough points on the board," Stover said after his 19th career four field-goal game. "We need to put touchdowns on the board, but 19 points was enough to get them. I'll kick field goals all day long if that's what it comes down to and I'm happy to do it."

This marked the third time this season Stover had kicked four field goals in one game, hitting four in a 28-6 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 17 and another four in a 26-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 5.
"That's why we call him, ‘Magic Stover,'" linebacker Bart Scott said.
Stover, who earned $900,000 this season, is under contract for two more seasons with a base salary of $1 million for 2007 and $1.2 million in 2008.

"Stover has saved us so many times," tight end Todd Heap said.
One adjustment Stover had to make this season is handling kickoff duties again since Koch pulled his quadriceps prior to the Ravens' Sept. 24 win over Cleveland.

Although several of his kickoffs tend to fall short, Stover has been consistent with his directional kicking. Special teams coordinator Frank Gansz has been cautious about keeping Stover from wearing out.

"I've learned how to maintain and not get too tired," Stover said. "Frank Gansz does a nice job of not having me kick too much during the course of the week, keeping my leg fresh. These next five days will be really good for me, too, to get fresh and ready to go for the playoff game."
NOTES: Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs hit the jackpot with his sack of Bills quarterback J.P. Losman in the final minute of the first half of a 19-7 win over Buffalo. The sack gives him 40 for his career and triggered a $5 million escalator clause for the 2007 season, the final year of his original rookie contract. Suggs was scheduled to earn a $545,000 base salary next season. This development could prompt the Ravens to begin working on a contract extension for Suggs during the offseason. … Nickel back Corey Ivy, who overcame a lacerated kidney to return to play, was named the Ravens' 2006 Ed Block Courage Award winner. One player from each NFL team is selected by their teammates for an award named after Ed Block, the former trainer for the Baltimore Colts. The 29th annual Ed Block Courage awards banquet will be held March 7 at Martin's West. ... Ravens rookie safety Dawan Landry received one vote for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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