OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -There's really no overstating the importance of kicker Matt Stover to the Baltimore Ravens.
``God love him,'' Ravens coach Brian Billick said. ``I'm still here because Matt Stover's here.''
Stover was kicking field goals long before Billick arrived in 1999, and there's no reason to believe he won't be putting footballs through the uprights well into the next decade.
Stover has been Baltimore's leading scorer every season since the Ravens came from Cleveland in 1996. He owns the second-best field goal percentage in NFL history (.839) and last Sunday moved into fifth place on the career list with 1,745 points.
``It just means I've been able to maintain a level of play for an extended period of time,'' Stover said Wednesday. ``Yes, it means I'm old. But it also means I've performed well within those 18 years. Being the fifth-leading scorer, it's fun to know you can look back and say, 'That's pretty cool.' But it's never in the forefront of my mind.''
The 39-year-old Stover covets winning more than anything else. In that regard, he's delivered almost without fail. His latest game-saving performance came Sunday, when he kicked four field goals, including a 46-yarder as time expired to lift Baltimore past Arizona 26-23.
``He's always been a hero,'' Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. ``We always know we can count on Matt. That's why he's been in the league for 76 years. When he got out there we knew we had it.''
OK, so Suggs exaggerated a little bit about Stover's experience. But Stover has outlasted dozens of kickers who entered the league with him in 1990, mainly because of an offseason workout regimen that keeps every part of his 5-foot-11, 178-pound frame in ideal shape.
He may not be able to lift as many pounds as Suggs, but he certainly lifts as often.
``If it was only about kicking a football, a lot more guys would do it,'' Stover said. ``The problem is staying on the field and being durable. You've got to stay healthy. If you're not playing, you're no good.''
Stover's holder, Sam Koch, is also Baltimore's punter. Koch is in his second season with the Ravens, and the lessons he's learned from Stover about training have been invaluable.
``When it comes to lifting and the mental game, staying healthy and in the weight room, he's taught me a lot,'' said Koch, who strained his quad as a rookie before turning to Stover for well-received advice.
No matter how strong his leg is, Stover isn't going to make too many kicks from beyond 55 yards. But he rarely misses from 50 yards and closer. That's why Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller liked Baltimore's chances of winning Sunday after he moved the team inside the Arizona 30 and watched Stover trot onto the field.
``If there's anybody I want out there, it's him,'' Boller said. ``If we get to the 30-yard line, he's almost automatic. Game over. His record shows that he's pretty much money.''
Tight end Todd Heap has been on the field many times when the Ravens were driving in the fourth quarter in a tight game. With Stover on the sideline, the 30-yard line might as well be the goal line, because that's how far Baltimore needs to go before victory is assured.
``Once we get there, we get in the huddle and say, 'Let's not do anything to back us out of this situation. We've got three points. Let's not do anything to mess this up,'' Heap said.
If the Ravens can't get a touchdown after moving into the red zone, Stover's there to get three points. If Baltimore can't get closer than the 33, Stover can rescue the drive.
It's been that way since the Ravens were born, and there's no reason to believe it won't be that way for many more years to come.
``Let's just get this year in and we'll evaluate it,'' Stover said. ``I still have that desire. I still want the ball. I still desire to exercise and work out and do what it takes to maintain this level of play.''
Most NFL kickers get a fair share of abuse because they rarely risk their bodies while doing their job. Stover gets ribbed because he's nearly twice as old as some of his teammates. But the joking is kept to a minimum, mainly because Stover has done more than enough to earn the respect of everyone in the locker room.
``We kind of give him a hard time in a loving and friendly way because he's a seasoned vet,'' Boller said. ``But everyone in here knows the hard worker that he is, the time he spends in the offseason getting ready, and that he's all about winning.''

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