Stover Does It Again

One play. One swing of the leg. One pair of uprights perfectly split.

That's all it took for Matt Stover to be a hero in the Baltimore Ravens' 13-10 Divisional playoff victory over the Tennessee Titans.

With poise befitting a 19-year veteran, Stover trotted onto the field with 53 seconds displayed on the game clock and booted home a 43-yard field goal that proved to be the difference in the outcome.

While this kick marked the 14th time in the Louisiana Tech product's lustrous career that he has provided the deciding points on a late field goal, it was the first time he did so in the postseason.

With Stover's track record, the Ravens couldn't have pinned their hopes on a more reliable right leg.

"He always delivers," All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis said of his longtime teammate. "Stover is clutch."

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"Matt Stover has been in this league for a long time," head coach John Harbaugh noted. "I am quite sure he has lined up for a lot of kicks like that. I don't know how many, [but] he probably does know and he probably remembers every one of them."

In addition, the 40-year-old kicker started the fourth quarter much the way he finished it, kicking Baltimore into its first lead of the day, 10-7, less than a minute into the game's final frame.

While credit deservedly goes to Stover for his ice-cold performance, each of the drives leading up to the pair of field goals contained a key play – ones you may not see on the highlight reel – that set Stover and the Ravens up for the success they enjoyed on Saturday.

As the contest unfolded into the field position battle that every football observer from the expert to the casual fan predicted, the teams were deadlocked at 7-7. In a game where the Ravens started at or inside their 20 on seven of 13 possessions in the game, Jim Leonhard sparked Baltimore late in the third quarter with a 29-yard punt return that gave the Ravens the ball on the Tennessee 41-yard line.

With a short field, the Ravens advanced the ball deep into Tennessee territory and gave Stover a chip shot from 21 yards.

Later, on the game-winning drive, a crucial third-down pass from Joe Flacco to Todd Heap generated the momentum the Ravens needed to push the ball down the field.

Baltimore came perilously close to a three-and-out situation, facing third-and-2 at their own 32-yard line. But, under pressure, Flacco hung in the pocket and found Heap 23 yards ahead, rifling the ball between defenders Nick Harper and Michael Griffin.

And despite losing his helmet on the hit, Heap wouldn't be separated from the ball, and the Ravens' faithful who journeyed to Nashville made themselves heard shouting the tight end's name.

"You've got to credit Todd Heap for going up and making a play," Flacco reflected.

Of course, the significance of both of those plays would have been completely lost if not for the man of the hour knocking home, as Harbaugh put it, "One more to tack on to just a fabulous career by Matt Stover."

And so, though he stepped on the field for just a few plays, the ever-reliable Stover took all of the Ravens' efforts in this smashmouth contest and made them pay off in a big way, kicking Baltimore into next week's AFC Championship Game.

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