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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Kick

After squandering a 17-point lead, the Bucs salvaged a win over the Eagles when kicker Matt Bryant hit the second-longest game-winning field goal in NFL history


Um, yes, that's the midfield logo on which K Matt Bryant is standing after his game-winning kick Sunday

Off the foot of Matt Bryant the football hung in the air for what seemed an eternity – so much so that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker said he lost sight of it three-quarters of its way down the field. It wasn't until he heard the sound of the cannons firing that Bryant knew his 62-yard field goal was true, giving the Buccaneers their second consecutive win and stunning not only the Philadelphia Eagles but just about everyone who witnessed the historic kick.

"The kick." That's all anyone was talking about after the 23-21 Buccaneer victory, and that's the simple name it will be known as years from now by nostalgic Tampa Bay fans and disgusted Eagles faithful who look back on October 22, 2006 at Raymond James Stadium. That's the day Bryant hit the second-longest game-winning field goal in the 87-year history of the NFL.

"You know, as soon as I hit it, I saw it going straight, and I thought, 'Well, it's going towards the goal post,'" Bryant said after the game. "And then I lost sight of it. When I knew is when I heard the cannon go off. Then people started jumping on me. That's when I knew it went in."

Overcoming the sheer physical challenge of the kick was an achievement in its own right, but this was so much more than merely a test of leg strength for Bryant. It was an affirmation of attitude, a validation of the team's character and a cure for the heartbreak thousands of loyal Buccaneers fans – perhaps even players – were well on their way to experiencing.

Unable to get anything going on offense much of the day, the Buccaneers' defense had returned to form, at least in terms of creating big plays. All season long, the Bucs' defense has looked for one of its own to step up and take control of a game. Sunday, cornerback Ronde Barber did just that, intercepting two Donovan McNabb passes and running each back for a touchdown. Thanks to an offense that refused to self-destruct and a defense that played its collective heart out, the Buccaneers held a 17-0 lead over the Eagles before seeing that lead reduced to six points by the fourth quarter. Still, with only 46 seconds remaining in the game, the Buccaneers found themselves one defensive stand away from earning a huge victory.

It was third-and-six when the unthinkable occurred. After working so hard to limit the Eagles' big-play offense, the Buccaneers were burned at the worst possible time. A mid-range pass to running back Brian Westbrook turned into a 52-yard touchdown when Westbrook eluded five Buccaneer defenders on his way to the end zone. An extra point later, the Bucs were trailing for the first time in the game, 21-20, with 33 seconds left. In one play, the air was sucked out of the stadium.

Just 29 seconds later, Bryant would turn desolation into elation for fans and teammates alike, breathing – or more accurately, kicking – life into a team that has already endured a tumultuous beginning to its 2006 season. Long-snapper Dave Moore was stupefied as he watched Bryant's kick sail true. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was equally dumbfounded.

"That's unbelievable," Gradkowski said in the locker room after the game. "I looked at Tim Rattay and asked, 'Is this possible? Is this realistic?' Then we watched it, and everyone started to stand up and I couldn't believe it. I mean that's amazing. What a great job – the whole execution of that play. Matt has to kick it straight, there's blocking up front, great snap, great hold – and Matt just put it right through the uprights. That's unbelievable."

It was unbelievable. In fact, it was the high improbability of making such a kick that actually helped Bryant. It's no slight to Bryant, but no one in the stadium Sunday expected him to nail the long-distance kick. That realization, Bryant said, helped take off a lot of the pressure that almost always accompanies game-winning attempts.

"On a kick like that, the odds are stacked against you from 62 yards, no matter what," Bryant explained. "The percentages just go down. I think that made me just relax and say, 'If it goes in, great. If it doesn't, then you did your best.' Right before the kick, Josh [Bidwell] looks up at me and says 'Just have fun.' That's what it was about – just having fun."

Bidwell, the All-Pro punter and holder on the play, said he also delivered another message to Bryant before the kick.

"During the timeout I walked over to him and said, 'Hey, just kick this thing as hard as you can,'" Bidwell said. "I didn't want him to feel any pressure. He shouldn't have felt much pressure. Right when we got the spot, he tapped his foot and looked at me and started walking back there and [I said] 'Have fun, buddy.' And he just kind of smiled and was relaxed and I've never seen anything like it."

Afterward, the team was giddy. Joked Bidwell: "That's the longest hold I've ever had, and I think I have a couple more yards in me, to be honest with you."

Bidwell didn't want his levity to obscure the fact that a successful field goal from any length is a team effort.

"You know what, let's not let it go unnoticed that Dave Moore snapped it right on the money, and there's probably more pressure on Dave and I, honestly, because people won't expect Matt to make it from that far but we're supposed to get the ball down," said Bidwell. "I'm so proud of Dave. He did a great job today, especially on that snap, and we got it down and gave him a chance."

True to his forthright and humble nature, Bryant didn't philosophize about his entry into NFL history books after the game. He didn't give one of those typical postgame statements in which a kicker claims he knew he nailed it from the second it left his foot. Instead he spoke of how important the win was to the psyche of the team, how glad he was to help secure the victory for his teammates and how he still knows that a kicker is only as good as his last kick.

"I hate to say this because it's going to kind of sound like I'm lying, but as soon as I hit it I was like, 'Well, maybe,'" admitted Bryant. "I didn't think I hit it as good as I thought I could have hit it."

Still, as he looked at the still shots of the kick on his way out of the stadium, Bryant couldn't help but notice the outstretched arm of an Eagles defender. He mumbled something about the low-trajectory kick almost certainly being blocked had he kicked it just a foot over to his right.

Maybe it would have been had he kicked it there, but he didn't, and it wasn't. And Matt Bryant created a memory for the ages. That memory will forever be known as, "The Kick."

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