One way or the other, special teams is going to affect the outcome of this year’s Super Bowl. Both the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers have players who could ultimately decide which team goes home with the Lombardi trophy
Memories of Kyle Williams’ errors against the New York Giants last year will sit fresh in the minds of the Niners, so they will be anxious to avoid a repeat of such heartbreak.
The Ravens, however, will be confident in the ability of their special teams unit, as they have played to an exceptionally high standard all year. However, they have also shown that they are not immune to giving up big plays, as evidenced by the two special teams touchdowns conceded in Denver.
Outside of the big battles, special teams are often overlooked in such important games. However, below are three players with the potential to make people pay attention—for very different reasons.
Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore Ravens
When a kicker makes 30 out of 33 field goal attempts in the regular season—including going 4-for-4 from over 50 yards—there’s a fair chance that the team can rely on him.
An undrafted free agent out of Texas in the 2012 draft, Tucker has come out and performed to an exceptional level in his rookie season.
The Ravens are no strangers to playoff heartbreak, as Billy Cundiff’s potential game-tying field goal went wide against the Patriots last year. Cundiff was recently cut from the Niners after signing to give kicker David Akers competition and Tucker has flourished since his departure from Baltimore.
His reliability has also stretched to kickoffs. Against the Indianapolis Colts, Tucker smashed every kick out the back of the end zone, while the coverage team pitched a perfect game and held the Colts to zero return yards of any kind.
That sort of achievement would be incredible in a Super Bowl, and could seal the entire game.
David Akers, K, San Francisco 49ers
On the flip side of the kicker coin, David Akers will be making a lot of Niners fans very nervous.
The veteran kicker missed a 38-yarder in the dying minutes of the NFC Championship Game, so it’s not as if his regular-season demons have gone away.
He’s missed three of his last six kicks, but don’t take Jim Harbaugh’s decision to keep him in the team as a vote of confidence.
Of course, Akers went to the Pro Bowl last year and has been battling a pelvis injury for part of this season. He’s proven over the years that he is a very reliable kicker, but his frailties this season could be the most important part of his career.
Ted Ginn Jr. PR, San Francisco 49ers
Ted Ginn Jr. has looked unsure of himself all year, but his 20-yard punt return against the Falcons took him to the Falcons 38-yard-line and set up the go-ahead series for San Francisco.
That could be crucial to his performance in the Super Bowl, as some extra confidence is exactly what Ginn needs. He has misjudged the flight of the ball, looked tentative in picking his holes and fumbled on his returns.
On a day when the Niners need an exceptional performance all round to beat a Ravens side looking to give Ray Lewis the best send-off possible, it’s imperative that Ginn makes a positive impact.
The good news for the 49ers is that his last contribution was overwhelmingly positive.