Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Thrill of Victory

Rookie K Martin Gramatica has the game of a lifetime

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Martin Gramatica kicks one of his four Sunday field goals

Tampa Bay Buccaneer rookie kicker Martin Gramatica is…well, let's say exuberant. By now, Buccaneer fans are familiar with Gramatica's genuine and obvious joy after each made field goal. They've had plenty of chances to witness the young kicker's leaps of joy this season, as Gramatica has nailed 18 of his 22 attempts so far.

However, none of his previous celebrations compared to the unrestrained frolicking that followed his game-winning 58-yarder against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. In what he characterized as the greatest game of his life, Gramatica's effort was the most significant in a rousing 19-10 comeback win. The excitable kicker was cool under pressure, making all four of his field goal tries from distances of 26, 24, 50 and 53 yards.

Of course, you can't blame Gramatica for his excitement. Consider the following:

· Gramatica became the first kicker in Buccaneer history to make two field goals of 50 or more yards in the same game, let alone in the fourth quarter of a close game. · There were only 58 seconds remaining on the clock when he hit the 53-yarder to put Tampa Bay up 12-10, meaning a miss would have almost certainly dropped the Bucs to 5-5 and out of a first-place tie in the NFC Central. · The win gave the Bucs their first fourth-quarter comeback in 1999 and their first recovery from a 10-point deficit since midway through last season.

"Every kick is big," said Gramatica, "but (the 53-yarder) seemed a little bigger than most. I can't remember making as big a kick as this."

Those are tall words from the 5-9 Gramatica, considering the NCAA-record 65-yarder he made while he was kicking collegiately for the Kansas State Wildcats. It was kicks such as that, plus an uncanny accuracy, that prompted Tampa Bay to devote a third-round draft pick to the selection of Gramatica, making him by far the highest-drafted kicker in team history. It is his daily work in practice that convinced Dungy to put the game in Gramatica's hands not once but twice on Sunday.

"Martin came up big," said Dungy, "and that's why we spent a third-round draft pick on him last April. Having an accurate kicker kind of plays into our philosophy. And connecting on two 50-yard field goals is impressive, but it's nothing he doesn't do in practice every day.

"We've had a lot of confidence in him ever since he's been here," added Dungy on Monday. "His presence has been very important. You can look at a team like Chicago, where they may be two or three kicks from being in the lead in this division. When you're playing tight games like this, and everything is not really in sync, it's good to have that field goal kicking to bail you out."

Punter and holder Mark Royals, a 6-5 complement to his kicking mate, was in the path of Hurricane Martin after the game-winner. "Mark told me that he would be the first to congratulate me before the kick, but I told him that he was going to jinx him."

Of course, that job usually involves catching the airborne Gramatica, which he handles as well as Morris Unutoa's snaps. In fact, the other 10 players on the field deserve a lot of credit for Gramatica's game-winner, according to the man who puts the ball through the uprights. "I guess you could say it was easy because everybody did their job perfectly," said Gramatica. "I just focus on what I have to do and try to the ball through the uprights."

Gramatica has done so on 18 of his 22 tries so far this year, including three of four kicks from 50 yards or beyond. One of his four misses was a block. He leads the team with 68 points and is on pace for a team-record 109. Though the Tampa Bay offense has not scored as regularly as the team would like, Gramatica could still get the team's individual mark because he has done an excellent job of capitalizing on his opportunities.

Hopefully, the same will soon be said about the Buccaneers, because Gramatica's heroics have vaulted the team into contention for the NFC Central title.

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