Matt Bryant’s kick stayed in the air long enough for everyone to get a lasting look. Its significance depended on your vantage point.
Just consider all that transpired before, during and after Bryant made his improbable 62-yard field goal on the final play of the Bucs’ 23-21 upset of the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
For Bryant, who was 2-of-5 in field goal tries before Sunday and had never converted from more than 50 yards in his career, it was a bit of redemption.
“The last couple of games haven’t been very positive for me,” he said, “so I had to get something going, get something to work on.”
It had been a pretty good week for Bryant. During practice he hit a pair of 54-yard attempts (into the wind). And on Tuesday his 3-week-old son, Stephen Trey, was taken out of the incubator at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, where he had been since being born Sept. 29, and allowed to come home. “The story on him is that the placenta was smaller than it was supposed to be and my wife had high blood pressure,” Bryant said, “which is why he was only 3 pounds, 10 ounces.”
For Derrick Brooks, the kick represented a differing type of redemption.
The nine-time Pro Bowl player had been nearly disconsolate on the sideline, because 33 seconds before Bryant’s heroics, Brooks had the first and best chance to tackle Eagles running back Brian Westbrook on what became the go-ahead 52-yard touchdown reception.
The play, which included at least five missed tackles, represented another monumental fourth-quarter collapse by the defense, allowing the Eagles to march 80 yards in just over two minutes to take a 21-20 lead. “It’s funny, because the things that you do the most in critical times seem to fail you,” Brooks said. “Again, I’ve made that tackle 500 (times). I missed it. I guess the discouraging thing is the pursuit after that. We all missed him. That’s partly because the guys are used to me bringing the guy down and they’re not having to make that tackle.”
As Brooks looked for a place to hide, defensive end Simeon Rice lifted him up.
“He said he had a good feeling,” Brooks said, “(and to) just stay positive.”
Take a look at the kick through Ronde Barber’s eyes.
The cornerback had accounted for both Bucs touchdowns, on interception returns of 37 yards in the second quarter and 66 yards (for a 17-0 lead) in the third.
The plays were reminiscent of Barber’s 92-yard interception-turned-touchdown against McNabb that clinched Tampa Bay’s win over the Eagles in the 2002 NFC Championship Game.
“You can call it a collapse, because it was a collapse in the fourth quarter,” Barber said. “There were a lot of negative vibes going.”
Take a look at the kick through Bruce Gradkowski’s eyes. The Bucs rookie quarterback struggled Sunday, completing 13-of-26 passes for 104 yards — five of them to wideouts.
“I know on my part there are a lot of things I need to get better at and work on,” Gradkowski said. “I’m disappointed by my performance.
I looked at Tim Rattay before (Bryant) kicked and I was like, 'Is this possible? Is this realistic? Should I expect him to miss it?’ Rattay just looked at me and was like, 'I don’t know.’ ”
Dave Moore, the Bucs’ long snapper, had never seen Bryant attempt a kick of more than 54 yards — not even in practice. He didn’t want to say a word to Bryant.
“(Tight end) Anthony Becht was having a meltdown saying it shouldn’t have come to this,” Moore said. “They called a timeout to kind of ice Matt a little bit, and there were guys who were mad we were even in that situation. I figured I was going to try to put there to give him the best shot he could so he could let it rip and he did.”
Punter Josh Bidwell, the holder on placekicks, is Bryant’s most trustworthy confidant.
“Right before the kick, I looked up at him and said, 'Just have fun,’ ” Bidwell said.
When Bryant’s foot hit the ball, special teams coach Richard Bisaccia said he knew it would have the distance. Bryant wasn’t as confident.
“I hate to say this, because it’s going to sound like I’m lying, but as soon as I hit it, I said, “Well, maybe,” Bryant said. “But I didn’t hit it as good as I thought I could have hit it. I saw it probably going three quarters of the way and then I lost sight of it. And then somebody jumped on me and I heard the cannon go off and I said, 'Well, I guess I made it.’ ”
Bryant wasn’t just mobbed by teammates, he was buried alive by them.
“I didn’t think I was going to get up. Literally,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Jon Gruden’s team was 0-4, the offense was in the hands of a rookie quarterback, and the defense looked old. He has been in the game long enough to know miracles don’t normally fall out of the sky end over end.
But there he was, with four seconds left, with no timeouts, at the Eagles’ 44.
“Well, how many (62-yard field goals) have been made in the history of football,” Gruden asked rhetorically. “You know what I mean?
Yes, I was stunned. I don’t make a living doing this, kicking 61- or 62-yard field goes to determine the outcome of games. …To count on a 62-yarder on a day like this is hard to do.”
After the kick, when Bryant came up for air, he glanced into the section at Raymond James Stadium where his wife and infant son were sitting.
“”I held up three fingers,” Bryant said. “”For Trey.”
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 23 October 2006