FOXBOROUGH — The day after Justin Tucker made a 61-yard field goal, Bill Belichick thought of a foolproof way to prevent such long kicks.
Take the air out of the ball.
Short of that, not much can stop Tucker connecting for the Baltimore Ravens or Stephen Gostkowski putting the ball through the uprights for the New England Patriots.
One of those kicks very well may be the difference when the teams, with plenty of experience in close games this season, meet Sunday.
So the coaches, Belichick for the Patriots (10-4) and John Harbaugh for the Ravens (8-6), know their defenses must be especially stingy to keep Tucker and Gostkowski out of their field-goal range.
Once a strong kicker gets into his range, “I don’t know if there’s much you can do,” Belichick said. “Unless they put a ball in there that doesn’t have any air in it or something, the guy (Tucker) can kick from midfield.”
Tucker is tied for second in the NFL in scoring, three points behind Gostkowski.
“Having two kickers like that, you know that the spot on the field where they can kick a field goal, it’s farther out than most teams,” Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “So you’re conscious of where he needs to be to kick a field goal.”
But once Tucker and Gostkowski get there, they don’t miss much.
Between them, they’ve made 67 of their 72 attempts this season. On kicks of at least 50 yards, they’ve made 11 of 13.
Their accuracy is even more critical because they’re in close games. In those decided by three points or fewer, the Patriots are 6-1 and the Ravens are 5-4 this season.
Tucker’s 61-yard field goal with 38 seconds left Monday night gave Baltimore an 18-16 win over Detroit. It was his sixth successful kick in six attempts in that game and extended his streak to 33 successful tries, fourth longest in NFL history.