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FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Billy Cundiff experienced every kicker's worst nightmare when he missed a last-minute field goal attempt that would have forced Sunday's American Football Conference title game between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots into overtime.
Cundiff, 31, hooked his attempt from 32 yards to the left of the upright with 11 seconds to play, allowing the Patriots to escape with a 23-20 win and a trip to the Super Bowl.
"Let's keep this simple," he told reporters at a post-game news conference. "That's a kick I've kicked 1,000 times in my career but today I didn't convert.
"That's the way things go, but there's no excuse for it."
The home supporters at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, roared with laughter and breathed a collective sigh of relief while Ravens fans released a mighty groan.
Within seconds, televisions commentators were criticising Cundiff while National Football League (NFL) fans around the world were lampooning him on social media sites.
Cundiff, his head down, ran off the field, looking like the loneliest man in the world and for good reason.
The field goal kicker sits on the sideline for most of the game before suddenly being thrust into center stage, often to win or lose the game. He often only becomes a talking point when he misses.
"When you are at this level, if you're going to be a professional, it's your job," Cundiff said. "And I think you do have to take it personally. I get paid to make field goals I don't get paid to miss field goals."
Cundiff has already experienced plenty of disappointment in his NFL career. In his first seven years, he was signed and traded by eight different teams before finally settling at Baltimore in 2009.
It seemed a perfect fit and he reached new heights. He was voted to the 2011 Pro Bowl as the AFC placekicker then signed a five-year, $15 million deal before his worst nightmare became a reality.
"You earn the respect of this team by playing well and I feel like up to this point I have given the guys a lot of reasons to believe in me so the disappointment is letting my team mates down," Cundiff said.
"I've had setbacks before but I'll move on from this. It's one of those things that will strengthen me in the end."
Editing by Frank Pingue