FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – With 4:25 left in regulation and his team leading the New Orleans Saints by seven points, Falcons head coach Mike Smith elected to try a 55-yard field goal.
If Falcons kicker Matt Bryant had missed – and Bryant was coming off a game in which he uncharacteristically missed two of three attempts – the Saints would have had the ball at the Falcons’ 45-yard-line and plenty of time to score. It was the kind of difficult choice that, if it went wrong, would echo others in the Falcons’ difficulties against their NFC South archrivals over the years.
Smith’s somewhat risky strategy paid off, as Bryant nailed the kick and the Falcons prevailed 23-13. Asked about the decision after the game, Smith regarded his questioner with the kind of look that said, “That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”
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“That’s a big decision,” he said. “There are a lot of decisions that are made and I had all of the confidence in the world in Matt Bryant and that he would make that field goal. We knew if we didn’t get the outcome, our defense would go out there and make the play to keep them off.
“It was a no-brainer in my mind.”
To Smith, it might have seemed like a no-brainer, but his kicker thought the move veered from his coach’s past decision-making.
“I was kind of surprised we were attempting it just because our style of football – that wasn’t necessarily our style of football, so I was surprised,” Bryant said. “Pregame, you go out and hit them from 58 (yards), so as far as being able to do it, there’s not a doubt. It was fun for him to say, ‘Go out there and get those three points.’ So that was good, but that hasn’t necessarily been the norm, so I guess I was a little surprised, too.”
The 55-yarder was Bryant’s second of the season, both being his longest since he kicked a 62-yarder in 2006. Since replacing Jason Elam in 2009, he has ranked among the NFL’s best. Last season, his 93.1 percentage (27 of 29) was best in the NFL, according to the Falcons, and the 30 consecutive kicks he made between 2010 and ’11 represent the longest streak in team history.
This season, his 119 points rank third in the league and both his 29 field goals and 34 attempts are tied for second in the league. However, his 85.3 percentage has dipped below his performance of the last two seasons (he also was above 90 percent in 2010), which were the two best of his career. Thirteen kickers who have a minimum of 18 attempts have higher percentages than Bryant this season. Still, his performance this season is more in line with his career percentage of 84.2 during his 11 years in the NFL.
That Bryant had arguably his worst day as a Falcon against his former team, Tampa Bay, would seem like it wouldn’t sit well with the kicker, saying on Tuesday that “it’ll be 20 years down the road and it still won’t change the fact of how business was done there.”
Nonetheless, he said that didn’t change the fact missing the kicks felt the same as it would against any other opponent.
“You want to go there, you want to have your best game. Period,” he said. “No matter where you’re at. You want to have your best game there, too. Would it have hurt any less if happened in Detroit? No.”
Bryant was able to live that one down because the Falcons won the game. The strangest occurrence involving one of his missed kicks happened with the first one, a 22-yarder.
A miss from between 20 and 29 yards is extremely rare. In the NFL this season, teams have attempted 169 kicks from that range — with only three misses, giving a success rate of 98.2 percent.
First, Bryant called timeout before the try, as the play clock was running down and he did not want to have to rush the kick. Even after that, the kick hooked left badly – Bryant said you could count on “one finger” the number of kicks he has made with the Falcons that have looked like that. After viewing the tape, Bryant said there was a mistake with “the operation” among the trio of rookie long snapper Josh Harris, holder Matt Bosher and himself.
“We’ve had 34 attempts as this little group together — field goals,” Bryant said. “I don’t know how many extra points I’ve had (32), so let’s say there’s been over 60 attempts we’ve had in game situations. Other than the very first game where I ended up kicking Bosher’s hand on one of the extra points, everything’s been good.”
Bryant did not specify what the issue was other than calling it a “snafu” and “just a little operational thing between the three of us.”
“It just can’t happen,” he said.
He seemed to say that it was a one-time occurrence and that the trio had straightened it out. That’s probably why Smith had the confidence in him to make the big kick that helped to put the Saints away last Thursday.
“Matt Bryant is a guy that makes plays like that all the time,” Smith said. “He’s made them for us since he’s been with us.”