Before this season, Sam Koch twice found himself on the doorstep of a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore made AFC championship games after the 2008 and 2011 seasons, only to fall short of that last necessary win, losing 23-20 to New England and 23-14 to Pittsburgh, respectively.
Koch, a former Nebraska punter, can put that distance into perspective now that the Ravens have made it to Super Bowl XLVII.
“When you go through that like we did, you are so close but yet so far away,” he said. “Until you get past that hump and you’re on the road to New Orleans or wherever, you just don’t realize you’re so far away.
“You watch those Super Bowls and it was really kind of a sad feeling. Now that you’ve done it, it’s a very gratifying thing.”
Koch heads to New Orleans on Monday as an important piece of the Baltimore team that will play San Francisco next Sunday night at the Superdome.
The seven-year veteran averaged a franchise-record 47.1 yards per punt during the regular season, then 45.9 in three AFC playoff wins in the January cold and winds of Baltimore, Denver and Foxborough. Koch had eight punts for a 48.3-yard average in the upset of the Broncos, when he also tied an NFL playoff record with six kicks placed inside the 20.
The success of Koch, place-kicker Justin Tucker and the Ravens’ special teams overall have played their part in the playoff run after Baltimore finished 10-6 in the regular season — the worst record of any of the AFC division winners.
“The offense is playing like it’s never played before, the defense like it always has and special teams have helped us win some games,” Koch said. “It’s just a combination of all three of us getting on that playing field and becoming one.”
And while Koch has had to wait until his seventh season to make a Super Bowl, he’s also more than grateful to be part of a franchise that has made the playoffs in six of those and compiled an 8-5 postseason mark during his time as a Raven.
He’s been along for the ride with longtime Ravens such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. No Baltimore teammate can match his current streak of 112 consecutive games.
“It’s been great,” Koch said. “We have a good team here, and that’s what everybody wants to do is go out there and win. And it’s not only that but I really think the camaraderie in the locker room plays a big part in our success.”
Koch, 30, might be a perfectionist now who studies and tinkers with every last little fundamental aspect of punting, but it all started with humble beginnings in Seward, Neb.
Koch said he watched his father, Dave, punt a football one time and was fascinated. From there he basically taught himself the skill before walking on at Nebraska.
Koch backed up future NFL punter Kyle Larson before handling the Husker duties in 2004 (41.3 average) and ’05 (46.5), when he was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist. Until late in his career, though, he never knew much about any pro chances.
“It wasn’t until midway and later in my senior season that I’d thought I’d get a tryout,” he said.
Then his ambitions were pretty simple even after the Ravens used their sixth-round pick in the 2006 draft to get him.
“Back in ’06, my goal was just to get through that first year and prove I could be a punter in this league,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot to do to prove I can be an elite punter.
“Things have been good and my stats have gone up, but I still don’t feel like I’ve had the year that I want to have. I feel like I’ve left a lot out there in certain games and throughout the year, and that drives me because I know I’m so much better than what I’ve put up.”
Baltimore thought enough of him after Koch was a Pro Bowl alternate after the 2010 season to sign him to a five-year contract that locks him up through 2015. With a career regular-season average of 44.6 and nearly 25,000 yards of punts behind him, Koch hopes there is still plenty more ahead.
“The average NFL career is 3.4 years or something like that, so to be here seven years and with the same team for seven years … it’s a complete blessing,” he said.
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