Stover coming up clutch for Colts

OWINGS MILLS -- Discarded by the Baltimore Ravens last winter when his contract expired, Matt Stover is intent on haunting his old football team again Saturday night. The veteran kicker booted the game-winning field goal during the Indianapolis Colts' 17-15 win earlier this season over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, hitting a 25-yard chip shot midway through the fourth quarter.

Now, Stover is preparing for another potential clutch situation as the sixth-seeded Ravens (10-7) take on the top-seeded Colts (14-2) in an AFC divisional playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"You have to understand it could come down to that," Stover told Indianapolis reporters Tuesday. "My thought process is to be prepared to kick that game-winner so if it does come, you're ready for it. You never go into a game thinking you're not going to get it. If it's against the Ravens, so be it because it's business on Saturday."

Stover, 41, has been so successful as a replacement for injured Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri that the AFC South champions are sticking with him throughout the postseason.

Signed on Oct. 14 for his 20th NFL season, Stover connected on 9 of 11 field goal attempts and all 33 of his extra points.

He's well-suited for this situation.

The third-most accurate kicker in league history with an 83.9 conversion percentage, Stover is 15 for 20 on field goals during his five previous postseasons.

"Matt has done a heck of a job for us on the field," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "In the locker room, he's fit in very well. Obviously, you can see why he's such a veteran.

"He's been around for a long time and knows how to act professionally. I feel like our team has welcomed him into the locker room, and we're certainly excited to have him on our team."

During the Ravens' 33-14 blowout win over the New England Patriots to open the playoffs last weekend, Stover's cell phone began blowing up with text messages from well-wishers from Maryland. 

"I've got a lot of good friends who are Ravens fans and they hit me with texts, ‘Looks like you guys are going to be playing the Ravens,'" Stover said. "And I hit them back, "Sure does and I'm excited about it.' Watching the game Sunday and I saw the way they started out and I went, ‘Wow, looks like it's going to be the Ravens.'

"I'm excited about the opportunity to be on this team and being able to go play those guys again, lots of friends. For those three hours we're playing, it's about business and it's about the Colts winning that game."

Stover's roots will always remain with the Ravens organization.

He played for the team ever since their inaugural season in 1996 through last season, moving with the team from Cleveland as one of the original Ravens.

Stover said he remains in close contact with long snapper Matt Katula and punter Sam Koch, his former holder. And he said he gets along well with middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

However, the Ravens decided to go with a younger kicker in Steve Hauschka after last season primarily because they preferred to have one kicker on the active roster to handle kicks and kickoffs.

It was an ill-fated decision as Hauschka flopped on pressure kicks as he missed a potential game-winner against the Minnesota Vikings. Ravens coach John Harbaugh downplayed the emotions of another reunion with Stover.

"No, I don't think it will be emotional for any of the guys seeing him," he said. "I mean, it's always good to see him. He's a friend of everybody, so we'll go say, 'Hey,' and go play the game."

Stover has thrived with the Colts while his wife and three children still reside in a Baltimore suburb.

And the Colts have been thrilled with his contribution.

"My family are Colts fans and rightly so," he said. "This team has faith in me, is committed to me and God willing, I'll continue to give a good product out there."

Now, journeyman Billy Cundiff is handling the kicking and has performed well for Baltimore despite some recent long snapping issues with Matt Katula.

He has converted 12 of 17 field goals for the Ravens, hitting both of his kicks against the Patriots.

As for Stover, he turned down an opportunity to sign with the New York Jets during the offseason because it would have cost his friend, Jay Feely, his job.

Subsequently, he declined a tryout offer from the Cleveland Browns and worked out for the New York Giants before being signed by the Colts when Vinatieri underwent another knee surgery.

"When I signed back in October, one of the things I prided myself to do was kick this team all the way to the Super Bowl," Stover said. "Coach [Jim] Caldwell has enough faith in me to do that. I'm very happy about it. Adam and I are still very close about it.

"We understand the situation. We want to win ballgames. To be in this situation, to be in a divisional playoff game, is very exciting."

While the Ravens' fans will be rooting for their team to knock off the Colts and return to the AFC championship game, Stover is still expecting some old allegiances to die hard.

"I don't know if they're going to have Stover jerseys on, but there's going to be some Stover fans," he said. "I've still got quite a few guys. In fact, some people have called and told me they are going to be there. They'll cheer for me and boo the rest of the team." 

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