No one has provided more information on Billy Cundiff's miss than Stefan Fatsis, author of "A Few Seconds of Panic," a book about his brief stint as a backup kicker with the Denver Broncos in training camp. For Deadspin, Fatsis has talked with Cundiff and has his own uniquely qualified perspective on the yank.
To summarize — and you should go read the whole thing — Cundiff has a specific routine he follows when the Ravens get into field goal range. On first down, he does one thing. On second, something else. Third, something else. Unfortunately, the Patriots scoreboard had the down wrong, which threw Cundiff out of whack.
On Sunday, during what would be the Ravens' final set of downs, Cundiff completed his first-down prep and checked the scoreboard: second down. He ran through his routine and looked up at the scoreboard again: third down.
Then, suddenly, chaos on the sidelines.
Coaches were screaming—from the opposite end of the field to where Cundiff was thinking his third-down pre-kick kicker thoughts—for the field-goal unit. The play clock was ticking and Cundiff, as per normal, was back from the sideline and farther from the line of scrimmage than his teammates. As he was not expecting to go in yet, he had to run to get into position for a game-tying kick.
So there it is. The scoreboard was wrong, Cundiff was rushed, and his mechanics on the kick went goofy. I don't pass this along as any kind of an excuse for Cundiff — you can decide for yourself if his miss is excusable or something that even needs excusing — but it's an explanation.
Here's another question, though: Is it possible that the Patriots did this on purpose? Did they have their scoreboard operator display the wrong down, to mess with Cundiff's routine? Ravens kicking consultant Randy Brown is wondering that same thing. Via CBS Philly, Brown said to Angelo Cataldi on WIP in Baltimore, "I don't think you can rule anything out in New England, can you?"
It seems like a tremendous stretch to me. Since it's the Patriots, some level of dishonesty and underhandedness will be assumed, but I'll be surprised and more than a little impressed if it's somehow uncovered that they hatched a scheme with knowledge of Billy Cundiff's pre-kick routine and a scoreboard operator as a confederate.
I'm much more likely to believe it was an honest mistake. The Ravens thought they had a first down a few plays prior, when Anquan Boldin fumbled the ball out of bounds. They didn't. The ball was placed at the spot of the fumble, not the spot where it went out of bounds. The Ravens themselves were confused about the down, and it's far easier to believe that the scoreboard operator was, too.