LOS ANGELES – Matt Ryan is the NFL's reigning MVP, but it's another Matt who's been the Falcons' MVP over the past two weeks.
Matt Bryant, the ageless wonder, has been everything a contending team could want in a kicker. The 42-year-old made five field goals in Week 17 against the Panthers to help the Falcons make the playoffs, and he was a perfect 4-of-4 in his team's wild-card round victory over the Rams.
"The old man was at it again," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said after the game. "Four-for-four, with some big kicks by Bryant."
Three of his nine field goals in the past two games have come from 50 yards or more, and Bryant became just the fourth kicker in NFL history to make two 50-plus yard field goals in a single playoff game.
It was Bryant who gave the Falcons an early lead on Saturday night against the Rams. After recovering a muffed punt by Rams returner Pharoh Cooper, the Falcons took an early 3-0 lead with a 29-yard field goal from Bryant.
Atlanta again turned to Bryant on its following possession, and he responded by drilling a 51-yard kick to extend the lead to 6-0.
Bryant's biggest kick of the night came late in the third quarter. After hitting a 25-yarder earlier in the third quarter to give the Falcons a 16-0 lead and a bit of momentum, Bryant was again called upon to attempt a kick from 54 yards out.
A similar situation occurred in the Falcons' win against the Panthers, in which a miss would have set Atlanta's opponent up with good field position in a one-score game. As he did in Week 17, the veteran came through in the clutch for the Falcons.
In a game where execution in critical situations is often the difference between a win and a loss, the Falcons may have one of the best X-factors in the playoffs.
"It's a great advantage to have him," Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong said of Bryant earlier in the week. "He's been in the moment several times, and he loves that. He loves that challenge. And that gives us enough confidence that you're like, 'OK, he's got it.' "It's really cool to have a guy like that who looks forward to the pressure."