K Martin Gramatica has reason to be excited for his November efforts
The National Football League announced its AFC and NFC Players of the Month on Thursday, as well as its NFL Rookies of the Month, and Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica walked off with his first such award. It wasn't one of the rookie honors, however, The Buccaneer rookie out of Kansas State was judged the NFC's top special teams player of November and became the second Buccaneer to win a Player of th Month award this season.
Gramatica earned his first NFC Special Teams Player of the Month award thanks to a four-game month in which he connected on nine of 10 field goal tries, missing just once from 51 yards. He follows DT Warren Sapp, who was chosen as the conference's Defensive Player of the Month for September.
Gramatica, whose exuberance on the field is already well-known, took the news of his honor calmly, citing the team's improved play. "I'm really happy with how we're doing and the fact that the team is winning," he said. "For myself, I missed a a few kicks that I really should not have missed, and when it comes to kickoffs, I'm trying to get better at those.
Of course, Gramatica is taking a full-season look at the situation when he says he has missed a 'few kicks'. In fact, the strong-legged rookie has missed just four of 25 attempts and is the team's leader with 78 points. He is the league's leading rookie scorer and is on pace to fly past the team's scoring record of 99 points. He also has nailed three of four field goal attempts from 50 yards or beyond, already just one shy of the NFL's rookie record in that category.
Two of those three 50 -yarders came in the Bucs' dramatic 19-10 win over Atlanta. Gramatica hit a 50 yarder with nine minutes remaining in the game to pull the Bucs within one point at 10-9, then converted a clutch 53-yarder to put the Bucs ahead with less than a minute remaining. It was the longest last-minute game-winner in the NFL in over two years.
Those game-winning kicks were gratifying but not exactly shocking for Head Coach Tony Dungy. "A kicker with a strong and accurate leg fits into our game plan," said Dungy. "That day, we weren't clicking on all cylinders on offense, and we were having trouble getting into the end zone. On days like that, it's good to have a way to score from farther out. We felt it was important enough to spend a high-round draft pick on."
Dungy refers to the third-round selection Tampa Bay used on Gramatica in last April's draft. Though it is unusual for a kicker to be taken that high (he was the highest-drafted kicker in the NFL in six years), there wasn't serious second-guessing over the Bucs' draft-day decision. After an outstanding career at Kansas State, Gramatica was considered a very sure bet in the NFL. So far, he has delivered on that bet.