TAMPA — There may be superstitious kickers out there, but the Bucs' Connor Barth is not one of them.
Barth, riding a club-record streak of 21 consecutive field goals, shaved his bushy beard down to a mustache Wednesday.
"It was bothering me," said Barth, 26, smiling. "A little hot."
Barth's streak of accuracy has been a big boon to the Bucs. He enters Sunday's game against the Cowboys having made all five of his tries to start the season after ending 2011 with 16 straight successes. He has the longest current streak in the NFL. And it's not stacked with chip shots, either; 14 have been from at least 40 yards, including three of 50-plus.
"I don't ever take it for granted," coach Greg Schiano said. "Maybe some do. But I've been there, where it's like kicking it between two toothpicks. So every time he hits it, I'm just thrilled with the job he's doing. And it's a weapon, make no mistake about it. Certainly we want to score by sixes, not by threes. But when you don't score by sixes, it's nice to get a three."
The Bucs appreciated Barth's consistency enough to award him a four-year, $13.2 million deal in the offseason, after the former North Carolina standout ranked second in the NFL in field goal accuracy (92.8 percent). Barth, the team's most reliable kicker since Matt Bryant (2005-08), said he has benefited from, for the first time in his life, having the same snapper (Andrew Economos) and holder (punter Michael Koenen) in back-to-back seasons.
And as much Barth tries to shut out the streak, friends and family constantly remind him.
"Everyone tells you every day, 'You've got 21,' " said Barth, whose last miss was a 55-yarder against New Orleans on Oct. 16, 2011. "I know it. When you get out there, you don't ever think about that. When you're kicking a field goal, it's not like, 'Oh my God, this is 22!' You shut everything out."
What keeps Barth grounded is the humble beginning to his career. After not being drafted, Barth shuffled among three teams in his first two seasons, released by the Chiefs and Dolphins before sticking with the Bucs in 2009.
"It's definitely a complete 180 from where I was when I first started," Barth said. "I remember one of my coaches asking me if I'm good from 45 yards. I'm like, 'Come on, man, this is the NFL!' But (the Bucs) coaches have a lot of confidence in me, and it's been great."
That doesn't mean Barth is too comfortable. He still rents a furnished apartment in the same Tampa complex in which he first unpacked his bags in 2009. Barth said he had bought a place at an area yacht club but quickly used the out clause, joking it was too much pressure.
"You never get complacent. Someone is always trying to take your job," Barth said. "The main thing for me is to keep working every day and give them no reason to come in and find somebody else. I'd love to play here the rest of my career. You've got to enjoy it while you can."
Barth is a long way from the NFL record for most consecutive field goals (including postseason), 46, set by Gary Anderson from 1997-99. But the record Barth has proudly talked about the most is the one his younger brother Casey, a UNC senior, broke on Sept. 8, setting the school mark with 55 career field goals, unseating Connor from atop the list.
"We have a nice little bet going to see who has the best percentage this year," Barth said. "It's always fun, a little competition."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.