FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Matt Bryant shows his age a bit when trying to describe the feeling that comes over him before he goes out on the field to attempt a crucial field goal.
“Once you cross that line, it’s kind of like ‘The Twilight Zone,”’ Bryant said Wednesday, standing in a corner of the Atlanta Falcons locker room before practice. “Things stop. It’s only for a few seconds. But you’ve got to be able to block that situation out and just let your body do what it’s been doing.”
Bryant isn’t quite old enough to remember the original version of “The Twilight Zone,” which went off the air more than a decade before he was born, but it’s clear that age is not a problem for this late-bloomer.
At 39, Bryant has never been better.
He’s made all eight of his field goal tries the last two weeks, including a 44-yarder with just over 2 minutes remaining that gave the Falcons (4-6) a 19-17 victory at Carolina.
That win pushed Atlanta to the top of the NFC South, and there will likely be more big kicks for Bryant down the stretch as his team attempts to make an improbable run to the playoffs.
His teammates have all the confidence in the world when diminutive No. 3 trots on the field.
“We’ve taken advantage of Matt, that’s for sure,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “You talk about no panic, no blink, Matt’s about as good it gets. When you get him in position, he knows how to close the deal.”
Bryant bounced around a bit early in his career, playing for four teams and even doing a stint in the now-defunct United Football League. But he found a home after signing with the Falcons in 2009, and this might be his best season yet.
He’s made 16 of 18 field goals, his only misses coming from 57 and 59 yards. That game-winner against the Panthers was the ninth time he’s come through for the Falcons in the last five minutes of regulation or overtime, according to STATS.
Bryant’s value was never more evident than when Carolina’s Graham Gano failed to connect from 46 yards and had a desperation 63-yarder blocked on the final play.
“I can’t tell you how much Matt has meant to our football team,” coach Mike Smith said. “He works at it extremely hard. He takes care of his body extremely well. There’s a routine he goes through every week. He knows how many kicks he needs to get in at practice that week, knows how many days he needs to kick to be ready.”
Bryant concedes that his leg isn’t quite as strong as some of the younger kickers in the league, but it’s definitely strong enough. He’s made 15 of 20 attempts from at least 50 yards during his time in Atlanta, a success rate that can be traced in large part to the precision he shows in his pregame routine.
Based on the weather, the field conditions, and the direction of the wind, Bryant can usually give his coach a very good idea of his range before every contest. The Falcons know within a yard or two on how far they need to drive to give their kicker a realistic shot at making the field goal.
Let’s not forget what’s on the inside, either.
Bryant’s icy demeanor has surely been molded by personal tragedy, from the loss of his 3-month-old son Tryson to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome to the death of his beloved father, Casey Bryant, on Christmas Day almost five years ago. He still hears his father voice, encouraging him before every kick.
No matter how good he is, t never seems like quite enough.
Bryant doesn’t just want to make every kick.
He wants every kick to be straight down the middle.
“My everlasting fight, one that I will maybe never, ever win, is the fight for respect,” Bryant said. “In my head, it will never be good enough. I can always be a little bit better.”
Hard to be much better than this.
Notes: S William Moore practiced for the first time since he went down with a shoulder injury on Sept. 28. He has been on the injured reserve-designated to return list since being hurt in a loss at Minnesota. He can practice the next two weeks and, if healthy, be activated for a Nov. 30 game against Arizona. “I can only hope to come back and contribute,” Moore said. “I’m not going to change the whole defense.” ... WR Julio Jones (illness), WR Harry Douglas (foot) and OT Jonathan Scott (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday.
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