Bryant shows the guts to erase any guilt
Matt Bryant was in a place no 5-foot-9 placekicker wants to be: in the path of rumbling oncoming blockers, ready to hit anyone in a red jersey.
As Bryant put it, one of those Atlanta players "cheap-shotted" him after the whistle on that fourth-quarter kickoff, but the pesky Bryant stood his ground.
"He might have shoved back," special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. "He works out, too."
That's Bryant. Just when you think he is down for good, he gets up and pushes back. Saturday, Bryant proved strong physically and mentally. He shook off a devastating miss of a routine 27-yard field goal with 10:04 left in overtime to nail a 41-yard winner with 15 seconds left, making the most of his precious second chance.
According to Bryant, he was but one piece of a puzzle that involved an entire team with a never-say-die attitude. He rallied from the missed field goal, the result of a botched snap from Dave Moore. But he wasn't the only one who came through when it counted most. "This team has battled through so much for so long," Bryant said. "This just shows the heart of this team. We're not going to give up no matter what. We'll take on the world. We've been doing it from the beginning. The whole world picked us not to do very good, and we've managed to prove them wrong quite a few times. We just have to do it one more time and get into the playoffs."
But Bryant's role in overcoming the odds cannot be overstated after Tampa Bay's 27-24 victory over the Falcons. Bryant earlier kicked a career-long 50-yard field goal that helped the Bucs keep pace. Then, he picked himself up during one of his lowest points, after the miss. The result was his second winning field goal against Atlanta this season. Bryant converted a 45-yard kick with 42 seconds left at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 20.
One of the secrets to Bryant's ability to bounce back has been the support of his teammates. They didn't utter a negative word to him after Saturday's miss. Nor did they say a peep after he missed a tying 29-yard attempt in a loss to Chicago on Nov. 27.
That support has made Bryant's successes with the Bucs the most memorable of his career.
"My rookie year (with the Giants), there were quite a few (big kicks)," Bryant said. "But it can't compare. The kicks are so much bigger just because this team is so special. There's cases, even in that Chicago game, people could have said what they wanted to say. They had a right to say what they wanted to say when I missed that field goal. But they didn't. They had my back the whole way through. And to just have a chance to come out and help this team one more time, it's huge."
And until the moment his final kick split the uprights, others' confidence in Bryant never wavered.
"The winner was right down the middle," said Josh Bidwell, who handled difficult snaps on the tying extra point and the winning field goal. It was "right on the money. You give Matt a ball all teed up and ready for him to kick, he's going to strike it every time."
Stephen F Holder, The St.Petersburg Times 25 December 2005