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Bryant on Verge of Breaking Franchise Points Record

It's a mild weekday afternoon in Flowery Branch, and after the players finish stretching, Matt Bryant walks over to one of the side fields and sets up his tee. Rap music is blasting from the speakers. Eric Weems is dancing on the sidelines. Coach Bryan Cox is giving one of his linemen a hard time and laughing heartily at his own jokes. The offensive linemen are bashing each other in the chest with red pads.

The atmosphere is loose, competitive, fun. Bryant, however, has removed himself from the present moment and crafted a different environment in his brain. As he takes three steps back and two to the left, he transports himself into a situation he's imagined thousands upon thousands of times: This is the kick that will win us the Super Bowl.

"So that one day," he explained, "whenever I get to the Super Bowl, it's like, 'You know what? I've already kicked a bunch of Super Bowl kicks. Just gotta go out there and do it again.'"

"It's those kinds of tricks that allow someone to be as mentally strong as he is to perform at a really high level for a long time," head coach Dan Quinn said Thursday. "Let's face it, the guy's an extremely mentally tough competitor, and it's those little cues and tips of every kick's the same the way he treats the extra point, to yesterday nailing a 56-yarder at the end of practice. Every one of his approaches are the same, and I really admire that about him."

Bryant considers this mindset the key to his long, successful career, which has led him to the brink of a meaningful achievement. If he notches four points on Sunday, he'll become the franchise points leader with 807. Morten Andersen (806) currently holds the record.

"It'd be awesome," Bryant said about breaking Andersen's mark. "It's not something you really set out to accomplish, but when it gets closer, I guess other people will tell you what's going on. So yeah, it'd be neat to have that feather in your hat, so to speak."

Known for his reliability and knack for coming through in the clutch, Bryant has been a local favorite since he joined the Falcons in 2009. During 103 regular season appearances with Atlanta, he's made 88.1 percent (177 of 201) of his field goal tries — the best rate in team history among those with 50-plus attempts, according to Pro Football Reference.

The Falcons have appeared in four postseason matchups during his tenure, and in those matchups, every one of his kicks have sailed through the uprights. This, of course, includes the 49-yarder that virtually sealed a win for Atlanta in the 2012 NFC Divisional playoff game against the Seahawks.

Now a 41-year-old with a salt-and-pepper beard, Bryant is as consistent as ever. He has made all 24 extra point opportunities and 15 of 16 field goals in 2016; his only error so far was a 58-yard miss last week. At present, he ranks second in the NFL in field goal percentage (94).

"It's about never being complacent," Bryant said. "Always trying to get better each day. Every day is different, so it's about trying to figure out something. There may be a problem that day, you just have to figure out how to solve that problem, and you'll be successful."

A lot has changed since Bryant entered the league in 2002, but he has not. He has always treated every kick the same way, trusted his style, and understood that his job is about creating the right series of events — that a 25-yard chip-shot in the first quarter can set up a game-changing play hours later.

Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, who coached Bryant during his rookie season in Miami, can attest to this.

"The best thing about him is … he's the same guy," Armstrong said. "Back when he was younger, he was the same guy. He was very serious about his job; he was very serious about his approach. He had his technique, and he believed in it, and you could see he was confident.

"It's not fake confidence. He believes. So you can't replace that."

Bryant considers the 49-yarder vs. Seattle as his favorite kick in a Falcons uniform. Opening day of the 2014 campaign is memorable for him, as well: In the Georgia Dome, he booted a 50-plus yard FG with less than a minute left in regulation to tie the contest, then made another 50-plus yarder in overtime to win.

Only three others have accomplished that feat in NFL history.

Also regarded for his longevity, Andersen hung up the cleats when he was 47. Bryant may step aside before reaching that age, but even as the oldest member of the Falcons and the league's third-oldest active player, he hasn't shown signs of decline.

Bryant hasn't lost his accuracy. As he proved by making a 53-yarder in Week 4, he hasn't lost his strength, either. And he hasn't lost the mentality that's guided him to such great heights.

Odds are he'll break the points record on Sunday when Green Bay comes to town. It could happen on an extra point right down the middle, or a mid-range conversion, or a long highlight in overtime that sneaks over the crossbar.

Regardless, Bryant will treat it like any other attempt. Because in his mind, doing so is his best chance at turning that Super Bowl vision into reality.

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