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An Inspired Attempt


Perhaps the most staggering thing about Matt Bryant's streak is when it began.

When Bryant kicked a 47-yard field goal in the third quarter last Sunday against Detroit he set a Falcons franchise record for most consecutive field goals made with 27.

Sure 27 straight field goals sounds like a lot, but to truly understand how impressive it is, you have to check and see when he last missed.

Bryant's last miss came in the season opener of 2010, on the road against Pittsburgh, a game the Falcons would lose in overtime, 15-9. His miss came in the second quarter, a wide right attempt from 46 yards out. He would get one more chance before the half in that game and he connected. He hit that one from 49 yards out and tied the game 3-3 heading into halftime.

From that kick on, Bryant has basically been perfect. It's easy to say that missed field goal in Week 1 last year was the difference in the game. That's a hindsight way to look at a football game and it rarely makes the point intended. Too many things happen over the course of a game that could have changed its final outcome.

Regardless of that, if you know anything about Matt Bryant, you know he's a true gamer, a grit-your-teeth kind of guy that doesn't like to fail. It's quite possible that when Bryant missed that kick he told himself he wouldn't miss for a while.

Sure enough, he hasn't. Incidentally, since joining the team in Week 13 of the 2009 season, Bryant's never missed a point-after attempt.

In his 10-year career, Bryant has connected on 83.6 percent of his 220 field goal attempts.

To get an even better sense of who Bryant is as a player, I turned to Pat Yasinskas, ESPN's NFC South blogger. Yasinskas has gotten to know Bryant over the years and shared some of his thoughts on the kicker with me recently.

Yasinskas first got to know Bryant when he did a story in 2008 on the tragic death of Bryant's infant son while with the Bucs. The day after Bryant's son's death, he went and played in a game, a win for the Bucs that saw Bryant kick and make three field goals. It was an act of perseverance that Yasinskas said wouldn't be his last.

Seeing the way Bryant and his wife handled such tragedy, it's easy to understand why Bryant appears to kick fearlessly in games.

"The way Matt and Melissa worked through that unimaginable pain truly was one of the most remarkable things I've seen in sports or anywhere else in life," Yasinskas said.

He shared a sort of oral history on Bryant with me, reminding me that the kicker worked in a pawn shop as he tried to find his way with an NFL team, a journey that included stops in the Arena League and NFL Europe.

Even after landing a reoccurring role in the NFL and making a name for himself as one of the most consistent kickers in the league, Bryant still had to persevere.

After being released by the Bucs before the season began in 2009, Bryant signed on with the Florida Tuskers in the United Football League before the Falcons, in sore need of a kicker, brought him back to the NFL.

The mental strength to simply compartmentalize everything outside of the game of football was called again by Bryant in the 2009 season. A few days following the passing of his father, Bryant helped the Falcons win a road game in Tampa to clinch the team's first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.

I personally will never forget seeing Falcons head coach Mike Smith embrace his kicker on the sidelines following one of his kicks. The Falcons franchise hadn't just found a consistent kicker, they found a quiet inspiration in a player whose locker resides in the far corner of the locker room at Flowery Branch.

During his time with the Falcons, Bryant's been asked how he does it. His answers are usually short, but sincere. He explains kicking is as much mental as it is anything. By the time a kicker has reached the league, muscle memory has taken over and the art of kicking is as routine as walking.

There are always variables—the wind, distance, angles—but the kicks are always the same. The one thing, as Bryant has explained, that makes or breaks a kicker is his mental approach to every kick. He doesn't over think any situation. His see-the-ball, kick-the-ball approach is remarkable and is the secret to his success on the football field.

But how he translates that to his every day life is what makes the man inspiring. His franchise record is only a piece of who he is.

Yasinskas shared one last thing that brings me new appreciation for the kicker, husband and father.

"Matt's career is kind of a life lesson for all of us. He's plowed his way through some extreme hardships and, for the last two seasons, he's been kicking better than he ever has and he and Melissa (Bryant's wife) recently added to their family with the birth of twins," he said. "Matt and Melissa are two people who truly have shown they're going to make the most of whatever life throws at them."

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