It’s hours before the Falcons’ NFC divisional round playoff game against Seattle and only a few people mill around the field. Media members and TV crews dot the sidelines while all is quiet inside the Georgia Dome.
Out of the tunnel comes kicker Matt Bryant, headphones on his head, football in his hand. It’s time for his weekly ritual — the very one that helped him nail the game-winning 49-yard field goal to lift the Falcons to their first playoff victory under head coach Mike Smith.
By the time he stepped up to the high-pressure kick, Bryant had made it hundreds of times in pregame, if only in his mind. It’s the hours before the game when Bryant gets the majority of his work in.
“When I get there in pregame, I go through each end of the field and I kick a series of kicks and I try to go through random kicks on the field so that whenever I get out there during the game, I can say, ‘You know what? I’ve already kicked this kick before,’ ” Bryant said Wednesday. “I just do what I did earlier.”
There’s nothing to the solitude of being out on the field nearly by himself hours before kickoff that gets Bryant into the zone, but it seems like a fitting contrast to the pressure, excitement and activity he experienced when he lined up with 13 seconds to go in a moment that would either extend or end the Falcons’ 2012 season.
With steely nerves and hardly a care in the world, Bryant knocked through the game-winner with a calm that we’ve seen before in those situations.
“Matt Bryant has got ice water running through his veins. He’s been a guy that’s won a lot of football games for us,” Smith said Monday. “You can’t ice him. Whether he kicks it good or kicks it bad, when it’s time to do it for real he puts it through the pipes. He’s been a big addition to our football team the last three years.”
Since coming on with the Falcons during the 2009 season, Bryant is 95-of-108, and among those is no shortage of high-pressure kicks. And when you’re in the second season and teams become so even, it’s sometimes the little differences that make the biggest impact — like having a reliable kicker.
The Falcons had one back in the 1998 NFC Championship game against Minnesota named Morten Andersen, whose 38-yard kick in overtime that year put the Falcons into the Super Bowl for the first time in team history. So, Bryant knows that his reliability and cool demeanor may be called upon again.
“You’ve just got to get ready to do the job next time,” he said, “and hope they still call you Matty Ice at the end of the day.”