'I Just Missed It'
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune, published 28 November 2005

A groan went through the crowd of 65,506 late Sunday afternoon when the Bucs, down by three and driving to win the game, stalled at Chicago's 11-yard line. Oh well. It was time to send in kicker Matt Bryant for an easy field goal to tie the score, hold the Bears, and win this thing in overtime. Good snap. Good hold.

But as Bryant's oh-so-reliable right foot struck the ball on the 29-yard attempt, it was obvious something was wrong. It started right and never hooked back before sailing wide of the upright -- no good, with less than three minutes to play. The Bucs didn't get the ball back until a bare 15 seconds remained. By then there was no realistic chance to save the day.

Later, in the Bucs' locker room after Chicago's 13-10 win at Ray-Jay, a somber Bryant confirmed what everyone had already seen. "I just missed it," he said.

Bryant tweaked his right hamstring on the opening kickoff, but neither he nor his teammates offered that as an excuse. "[He] felt he could continue to kick," Jon Gruden said. "And after we scored to make it 13-10, he kicked the ball off extremely well. He just pushed [the field goal]; he pushed it. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it goes."

Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia was direct when asked whether the injury contributed to the miss. "In my professional opinion, no," he said.

Last week in Atlanta, Bryant fielded different questions after he converted three field goals, including a pair of 45-yarders, to help beat the Falcons 30-27. He went from that, to this, in just seven days. They say it's the life of a kicker in the National Football League. "We can't say that one play messed the whole game," defensive end Greg Spires said. "We had a lot of opportunities during that game where we could have put ourselves in a better situation to win."

All Bryant knows is that he felt miserable after this game. All his teammates know is, they still trust him. "Last week, he kicked a winning field goal," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "You cannot be hot and cold. You cannot ride an emotional roller-coaster with a kicker. You know how important his job is, he knows how important his job is. He will come back next time and knock it down. I have a lot of confidence in him."

The miss was only Bryant's third in 18 attempts this season. He didn't appear to hit the ball cleanly, taking up a bit of Ray-Jay turf -- kind of like a golfer who hits a fat approach shot. He has been so consistently good, it's natural to think the hamstring injury must have affected him. But, no. He hit a 27-yard field goal late in the first quarter, and Gruden said the decision not to try a 49-yard attempt in the second period -- opting for a pooch punt instead that ended in a touchback -- was because of the wind, not Bryant's hamstring. "To be honest with you, the penalty in missing a field goal is severe in a game like this," Gruden said. "You give them the ball close to midfield or the 40-yard line, and we almost made a great play there, downing the ball inside the 5 [yard line]."

Bryant, all 5-foot-9 of him, stood in the locker room after and faced the kind of interrogation kickers dread. But as each question came, each answer came back with the same tone: no excuses "It should have never been that close," he said. "From 29 yards, it should go down the middle all the time."

But they don't, of course. As Bryant dressed by his locker, punter Josh Bidwell -- the holder for field goals and extra points -- put a hand on Bryant's shoulder and appeared to say something consoling. Moments later, cornerback Ronde Barber stopped by for a quick word. "[They said] keep your head up; you'll win a lot more [games] for us," Bryant said. "And that's what I have to do."

Ah yes, back to the life of a kicker. Sometimes even someone reliable just misses, but there is no time to dwell on what is done. The Bucs are in a playoff fight, and they lost ground Sunday. Can't change that. New Orleans, next week's opponent in Baton Rouge, La., is the concern now. Bryant seemed to sense that even as the ache of the loss settled upon him, it was already time to move on. "You can't get too high on the highs or too low with the lows," he said.

But then he looked back at the cameras and spoke in a low, even voice. "Granted, this is pretty low. "It should have never been that close. From 29 yards, it should go down the middle all the time."