Matt Bryant kicks Falcons into playoffs by tying career high

  • Alex Makrides
9:24 p.m Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017 Sports
Brant Sanderlin/Brant Sanderlin
Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant kicks a field goal in the 4th quarter Sunday December 31, 2017 against the Carolina Panthers.Bryant kicked five field goals to help lead the Falcons to a playoff berth. Photo by Brant Sanderlin/AJC

Matt Bryant didn’t miss.

The Falcons kicker tied his career high with five field goals to help secure the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC with a 22-10 win over the Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Bryant also hit five field goals against the Cardinals on Nov. 30, 2014.

All five of Bryant’s field goals came in the second half as the 43-year old hit from 30 yards twice, 33, 42, and 56. 

“He’s amazing,” wide receiver Julio Jones said. “We can always count on him. When we call ‘3,3,3’, I believe it’s going in, no questions, no doubt about it in my head that he is going to make it. He’s been a great player for us and he keeps showing his worth. Age doesn’t matter in this game. If you have a craft and you go out there and you master it, you can make plays. You can make things happen.”

Bryant had to ask reporters after the game how many field goals he hit in the second half. 

“Was it four or five? I really don’t know,” Bryant said. 

The humility echoed Bryant’s approach every time he lines up for a field goal or extra point. In his 16-year career, he said he has never wanted to put too much emphasis on a kick because he considers them all important.

“To be honest, I have just tried to make one so they will keep me around for the next game,” Bryant said. 

The longest field goal of the day came at a critical juncture midway through the fourth quarter. The Falcons led 16-10 and were moving well into Panthers’ territory -- common in the second half. Quarterback Matt Ryan and the offense faced a third-and-8 from the Carolina 32-yard line. The offensive line couldn’t protect Ryan from the Panthers’ pass rush and he was sacked for a loss of six yards. 

Instead of sending out the punting unit, head coach Dan Quinn decided to let Bryant try the 56-yard field goal. 

“I didn’t hesitate knowing where (the ball) was,” Quinn said. “Those ones, it’s better to make your decision and not look back. So, I knew where we were. I knew what the yard line that we had kind of said that was going to be the spot for us. When it was in that range, we gave (Bryant) the green light.”

It wasn’t the prettiest kick, but Bryant squeaked it within the left upright for his second-longest field goal of the season. 

“It was a big kick at that time in the game. It put us up by what, nine points,” Bryant said. “I hit it strong enough so I knew it had the distance. I kinda hit it a little too high on the ball which kind of gave it a weird ball flight, but it went through so that is all that matters.”

Bryant is now 8 of 9 on field goals from 50-plus yards this season. He also has made nine of his last 10 field goal tries dating back to the Saints game four weeks ago. 

“You always want to be on a hot streak at any point in the season, but it’s always good to have confidence going into the playoffs,” Bryant said. “I have it, our team has it, so we are going to ride it.”