Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant reacts after missing extra point.
Photo: 3
Photo: 3

Weekend Reflections: Matt Bryant didn’t lose game, but is he losing it?

What I think about some things I saw over the weekend . . . 

The Fox cameras lingered on Falcons kicker Matt Bryant for an excruciatingly long time after he missed an extra point that would have tied the game with less than two minutes to go. The 34-33 loss at Arizona shouldn’t be pinned on Bryant. Tying the game doesn’t mean winning it, and the biggest problem was Dan Quinn’s defense getting carved up by Arizona rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.

But remember that the Falcons released Bryant, 44, after last season because they feared he would slip. Now they must hope that they weren’t right. 

Bryant has missed 2 of 8 field-goal attempts this season. He so badly mishit a 50-yard attempt against the Eagles that it appeared it might have been blocked (it wasn’t). Against the Titans Bryant’s 32-yard attempt, which is a yard shorter than a PAT, clanged off the left upright. 

Now Bryant missed the extra point at Arizona. He missed two of 33 extra-point attempts in 2018 after he’d missed one of 118 tries over the previous three years at the PAT’s current distance. (A poor snap may have affected Bryant on one of the PAT misses in 2018). Bryant otherwise had a good season in 2018 after he’d struggled in 2017, but he missed three games last season because of a hamstring injury he suffered while kicking a 57-yard field goal to ice a victory at Tampa Bay. 

The Falcons thought they had a younger, cheaper and reliable replacement for Bryant with Giorgio Tavecchio. He’d washed out with the Raiders in 2017 but performed well while subbing for Bryant in 2018. The decision to keep Tavecchio backfired when he was so bad during training camp and exhibition games that the Falcons went looking for a replacement. 

The Falcons came back around to Bryant. He still was a free agent a week before the start of the season despite several NFL teams having problems with their kickers. Those teams apparently agreed with the Falcons that Bryant was too big of a risk. 

If the Falcons were right the first time about Bryant, it’s another issue to add to the large pile of them.

Bettors don’t think Georgia is such a long shot for CFP

Georgia is hoping that winning out will be enough to secure a spot in the four-team College Football Playoffs despite losing to South Carolina. It’s hard to imagine the CFP committee leaving out a one-loss SEC champion, even if the one loss is at home to a three-touchdown underdog. But winning out won’t be easy for Georgia: FiveThirtyEight gives the Bulldogs an 8 percent chance of doing it, while ESPN’s Football Power Index puts the probability at 6.3 percent

That’s why I was surprised to see at least one betting market still giving the Bulldogs a decent chance to win the national championship. 

As of Monday morning Sportsbetting.ag had Georgia tied with undefeated Wisconsin for the sixth-shortest odds (14-to-1) to win the CFP. That was behind Alabama (2-1/2-to-1), Clemson (2-1/2-t-1), Ohio State (5-to-1) and LSU (5-1/2-to-1) and ahead of another undefeated Big Ten contender, Penn State (25-to-1). 

Sportsbetting.ag announced on Sunday afternoon that Georgia had fifth-shortest odds (12-to-1) to win the CFP. Those odds changed a bit once bets started coming in, but the Bulldogs still are getting plenty of backing even with so many contenders still in the running for the playoffs.

Such is the advantage of playing in the SEC. If the Bulldogs win out, they’d own victories over four league opponents ranked among current Top 25 in the AP Poll: Florida, Auburn, Missouri and likely either Alabama or LSU in the SEC championship game. Georgia already beat No. 8 Notre Dame, which can bolster its resume with a win at Michigan next week. 

There may not be another CFP contender that will suffer an uglier loss than Georgia’s defeat to South Carolina. But the Bulldogs still could make the CFP by running the table from here on out. FiveThirtyEight gives them a better than 99 percent chance of making the playoffs if they don’t lose another game. 

I don’t think Georgia will win out, but those with more faith in the Bulldogs have a chance to cash in if they are so inclined. 

NFL’s officiating mess snared Falcons 

The NFL’s replay review system has been bad all season. Sunday’s victims were the Chiefs for an obvious pass interference that wasn’t called on review, the Browns for an obvious touchdown that wasn’t awarded on review and the Falcons for an obvious fumble by the Cardinals that wasn’t overturned on review. 

No part of wide receiver Damiere Byrd’s body touched the ground before he lost the ball near the goal line. It rolled into the end zone, where Falcons safety Damontae Kazee recovered it. But officials had already ruled Byrd down. The Falcons challenged the call and, inexplicably, it was upheld by replay officials in New York. 

Almost as annoying was former NFL VP of officiating/current Fox league shill Mike Pereira’s commentary. Initially Pereira said the replay showed that the ball came out before Byrd touches the ground and he was “not really sure” why it wasn’t overturned. Later, Pereira apparently remembered that his checks come indirectly from the NFL and said he wasn’t so sure that Byrd wasn’t down. 

After the game Byrd told azcentral.com that he “definitely got lucky” that the play wasn’t rule. Murray was even more blunt: "I was already on the sideline (after the play). I think he fumbled the ball."

The Cardinals scored three plays later for a 14-3 lead and went on to win by a point. The pass interference that wasn’t called in the Chiefs game cost Kansas City an interception in a game it would lose by seven points. Cleveland was stopped on fourth down following the touchdown-that-somehow-wasn’t and went on to lose by four. 

My Weekend Predictions went 6-8 

I want to say my 3-5 record on college picks should have been 5-3 without bad luck. Florida couldn’t score twice near the goal line with a chance to cover at LSU despite getting bailed out by penalties. A roughing the passer penalty put Texas in position to score a garbage-time TD to cover against Oklahoma. 

But the truth is I deserved every bit of my first losing week of the season. 

The Falcons and Georgia Tech long ago showed who they are yet I backed them, anyway. My shame for not picking Georgia State when they won as home underdogs two weeks ago was compounded by picking against the Panthers and seeing them win as road ’dogs Saturday at Coastal Carolina. They’ve become more trustworthy than Tech and the Falcons.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
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