Bryant’s preseason misses have Falcons worried

Matt Bryant knows how fickle the kicking profession can be.

He’s made nearly 82 percent of the field-goal attempts in his

career. Still, three misses in the preseason – including an extra

point – have the Atlanta Falcons worrying about another uncertain

season in the kicking game.

”That’s one of many concerns I have,” coach Mike Smith said

Tuesday. ”You’ve got to kick the ball between the uprights,

especially on extra points. When you’re kicking a 50-yarder, it’s a

little bit different situation. But we’ve got to make extra

points.”

Bryant is 3-of-5 on field goals in the first three exhibition

games, missing from 47 and 50 yards. That wouldn’t be a major issue

if not for a botched PAT in last week’s win at Miami.

He’s kicking himself for making a slight change in his motion

after the dirt of the baseball infield at Sun Life Stadium nearly

caused him to slip on his first extra point.

”I like going out here in practice and doing everything a

certain way. Then, to try to do something different, it’s not

good,” the 35-year-old Bryant said. ”It’s a lesson learned. Do

everything the same way every time. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

I’ve got to move on and have amnesia for the next game.”

Although Bryant feels like he’s got the confidence of his

teammates and coaches, he knows it only takes another miss or two

to put his job on the line. The Falcons face Jacksonville in their

final preseason game Thursday.

The Falcons don’t have any other kickers on the roster, but

there could be some intriguing possibilities once teams make their

final cuts. In Houston, for instance, the Texans must decide

between Kris Brown, the last original member of the franchise, and

Neil Rackers.

Bryant knew that nothing was secure, even after the Falcons cut

ex-Baltimore kicker Steve Hauschka in mid-August.

”People asked me how the competition was going, and I was like,

‘I’m not just competing against him,”’ Bryant said. ”There’s 31

other teams with two kickers apiece (in training camp). You’ve got

to go out there and own your spot, own your position.”

Stability at this high-profile position has eluded the Falcons

since Jay Feely left after 2003. They’ve gone through six kickers

in the last six years. More troubling, they’ve had to make a

midseason change three of the last four years.

Michael Koenen – still the team’s punter – flopped in 2006 when

the Falcons tried to give him all the kicking duties. Matt Prater

missed three of four attempts before he was dumped two games into

the ’07 season. Both times, Atlanta turned to ancient Morten

Andersen to finish out.

The Falcons seemed to have solved the problem when longtime

Denver star Jason Elam was signed as a free agent in 2008. He had

one brilliant season – 29 of 31 on field goals and perfect on 42

extra points – but inexplicably lost his touch in ’09.

Elam was cut after 11 games, having made just 12 of 19 field

goals and missing a PAT. Enter Bryant, who had been kicking in the

UFL after being cut loose by the Buccaneers.

Although Bryant was certainly more effective than Elam (7 of

10), he connected only once in four attempts from at least 40

yards. That’s what cost him his job in Tampa Bay, where he made 32

of 38 in 2008 – but only 5 of 11 from 40 yards and beyond.

”When a kicker makes a mistake, everybody in the stadium knows

about it,” Smith said. ”When an offensive lineman or defensive

lineman makes a mistake, you have to have a trained eye to really

know who made the mistake. But special teams are not like offense

and defense. When you’re out there on special teams, you’ve got one

snap. … You don’t get a second chance.”

Bryant said he’s hardly missed at all during practice, and he’s

certainly shown plenty of mental toughness during his career.

His 3-month-old son died unexpectedly in 2008. One day after the

funeral, Bryant returned to kicked three goals in Tampa Bay’s

victory over the Green Bay Packers.

Last December, his father – a major influence in helping him

reach the NFL – succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease. After attending

the funeral in Texas, Bryant rejoined the Falcons and kicked two

field goals in their season-ending victory over the Buccaneers,

which gave Atlanta back-to-back winning seasons for the first time

in franchise history.

”I’m kicking with all these people on my back, so to speak,”

he said. ”You can find motivation everywhere.”

NOTES: The Falcons cut two more players Tuesday to reach the

NFL-mandated limit of 75 before the final exhibition game. The most

notable name was DT Thomas Johnson, who was waived after starting

10 games last season. Injuries hurt his chances to stay on the

team. The Falcons also terminated S Matt Giordano with an injury

settlement. He signed with the Falcons in March after spending last

season with Green Bay.