As an objective fan, it was hard to avoid feeling sort of happy for Billy Cundiff when he sent the game-winning field goal through the uprights at the end of Sunday's matchup between the Washington Redskins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It's been a long way up over the last year for Cundiff. Actually, it was a long way up for Cundiff in Sunday's game alone.
And he isn't officially back yet. He isn't officially redeemed, nor can he officially be trusted with the game on the line. But Sunday was definitely a start. If he can't make 'em all, at least he can make the one that counts.
If the Redskins had lost on Sunday, Cundiff would have been the scapegoat. Robert Griffin III did his job. He threw for 323 yards, he rushed for 43 more and a touchdown and he didn't throw a pick. He gave Washington plenty of chances.
Four of those chances were Cundiff's.
He had four field goal opportunities against the Bucs on Sunday, and he only converted on one of them. Fortunately, it was the most important one: the potential game-winner.
And with a mere second on the clock, Cundiff converted a 41-yarder that gave Washington a win, a 2-2 record and a perfect opportunity to mark this as the beginning of their 2012 turnaround.
Cundiff still has a long way to go. On Sunday alone, he missed from 31 yards, 41 yards and 57 yards. Prior to Sunday's game, he'd been having a decent season. In the season opener against the Saints, he went 4-for-4. Of course, he followed that up with one big miss against the Rams in Week 2, but in his defense, that was from 62 yards on 4th-and-16.
Sunday was the first truly horrible day he's had since January 22, 2012, the day that probably marks the reason why he currently resides in Washington rather than Baltimore (though the Ravens refuse to acknowledge that). On that day, Cundiff had an opportunity to tie the AFC Championship Game at 23 and force overtime against the Patriots.
But he missed a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining in the game, sending the Patriots on to the Super Bowl and sending the Ravens home with nothing.
It's difficult to recover from a mistake like that.
Ravens fans will probably never forgive him. There's no telling whether or not Baltimore would have emerged victorious from overtime, but a field goal—from a very doable range—would have at least given them a chance.
Because of Cundiff, the Ravens never got that chance. And then they cut him at the end of the 2012 preseason. Surely, the two were unrelated.
To be fair to Cundiff, he's not a bad kicker. Not even close. In fact, he's a former Pro Bowler who finished 2011 among the top 10 kickers in the league. At least 20 teams in the NFL would have gladly given him a job.
And plus, even the best fall down sometimes—inexplicably so.
Look at the Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski, another Pro Bowler who is normally one of the most reliable kickers in the league. He missed what could have been the game-winner against Arizona in Week 2, and he missed twice against the Bills on Sunday, back in the first half when the game was still tight.
Being a kicker is a tough job, and no matter how good you are, you're only remembered for your biggest mistake.
That's why Sunday's outcome was so good to see. It was good to see Cundiff finally get a chance to celebrate a win with his teammates. It was good to see him finally get a chance to be the hero again.
If he keeps doing that, pretty soon, nobody will remember January 22, 2012.
Well, that's an overstatement, but games like Sunday's help.