This is one time when the Falcons’ instincts were spot on. They knew after last season that Matt Bryant’s aging leg had transported a great kicker to the end of the road. They tried to move on. Trouble was, they couldn’t find anybody any better.
After a calamitous preseason of kicking, they had to re-sign the guy they’d just thanked for his services. The result was what you, and surely they, knew it would be. The man who missed a total of three field-goal tries in the Super Bowl season of 2016 missed five in the first half of 2019, plus the PAT that would have tied the Arizona game near its bitter end.
On Tuesday of bye week, the Falcons bowed, again, to the inevitable. They released Bryant for a second time. We can’t say that kicking has been the worst thing about this 1-7 team, but its failures haven’t helped the communal cause.
The week after the missed extra point, Bryant missed from 52 yards against the Rams. The week after that, he missed from 51 and 53 against the Seahawks. Those were longish kicks, but he once made them almost without fail. For years, he was the other half of the Falcons’ late-game Matt magic. Ryan the quarterback would drive the Falcons beyond midfield; Bryant the kicker would boot ’em home.
We reference a previous game against Seattle. On Jan. 13, 2013, the top-seeded Falcons blew a 20-point lead in the Georgia Dome. Marshawn Lynch scored with 31 seconds remaining to put the Seahawks ahead 28-27. Twenty-three seconds later, the Falcons were back in front, this time to stay.
A Ryan pass to Harry Douglas for 22 yards. A Ryan pass to Tony Gonzalez for 19 more. Bryant from 49 for the win. Moneyball. Would have been good from 59.
What would have been the worst lost in Falcons’ history — 28-3 was four years and three weeks from happening — became the second-greatest victory in team annals, trailing only the upset of 15-1 Minnesota in the Metrodome for the NFC title. Ryan and Bryant — closers extraordinaire.
Was it mere coincidence that Bryant’s misses Sunday came in the first game Ryan hadn’t started since 2009? Probably. It was also symptomatic of this wretched season. The quarterback who never gets hurt gets hurt. The kicker who would go months between misses begins pushing kicks wide left and right. The defense — still terrible. The O-line — ditto. The coaching — nonexistent. Ergo, 1-7.
This isn’t to suggest that Bryant has been scapegoated. For the first time in 11 seasons as a Falcon, he wasn’t doing his job. We say again: He’s 44. Adam Vinatieri, maybe the greatest kicker ever, is 46 and has missed four field-goal attempts and four PATs for Indianapolis this season. It happens to every athlete. Heck, it happens to every human. Time is undefeated.
A personal note: For the longest time, I never expected Bryant to miss — because, for the longest time, he didn’t. From 50 yards, from 55, it didn’t matter. The man was all but unerring. To see him the past few weeks has been equal parts sobering and sad. He was once among the very best things about this franchise, but now he’d become as fallible as … well, pick any of the defensive backs who haven’t yet identified DK Metcalf as an eligible receiver on the goal line.
Credit the Falcons for sensing what was coming with Bryant. Debit their account for failing to locate a suitable replacement. They got it half-right, which is about the best this forlorn franchise can hope to do.
The Falcons are turning to Younghoe Koo (pronounced “Young Way Coo”), a Georgia Southern alum drafted by the Chargers in 2017. He also was waived by the Chargers in 2017. He hasn’t kicked in an NFL game since. He hasn’t made an NFL field goal longer than 41 yards. Now he’s expected to be an upgrade over one of the most distinguished Falcons ever. Good luck with that.
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