Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What the Bucs did to anger the kicking gods

TAMPA — This isn't really Nick Folk's fault. The blame doesn't belong to Roberto Aguayo, who suddenly couldn't kick straight. The responsibility should not stop at the doorstep of general manager Jason Licht. It pre-dates him by about five years.

It's not about Connor Barth's torn Achilles, Lawrence Tynes' MRSA or the trade for Kyle Brindza.

In Tampa Bay, they've been kicking like the Army marches —- left, right, left —for quite some time.

This is the sort of bad karma that follows when the mirror breaks after tripping over a black cat while walking under a ladder.

This, quite simply, a curse. Of Matt Bryant.

What does the Bucs inability to put the football through the uprights have to do with the Falcons' 42-year-old Pro Bowl kicker?

Well, maybe everything.

You may recall Bryant, who kicked for the Bucs from 2005-08. He connected on 83.1 percent of his field goals, including a 62-yarder as time expired to beat the Eagles 23-21 in 2006. At the time, it was the second-longest field goal in league history.

But in 2009, when the Bucs made Mark Dominik the team's general manager, he signed former Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent, a second-round pick of the Jets in 2005, to a $2.5-million contract, including bonus — about double what Bryant was earning.

Bryant had a hamstring strain but had been told he would kick in the preseason finale. But that was before he went on a local radio show and voiced his disappointment in his competition with Nugent.

"They asked who was going to be the kicker, and I said, 'it could be me, it could be him, it could be somebody else,' " Bryant said at the time. "I said, 'That's your $2.5 million kicker.' I shouldn't have said that. But did I lie? No. You have to look at where I was coming from. I'd been with the organization for four years. I tried to be a positive aspect in the community. My performance on the field, I felt, warranted some respect, some confidence.

"When they signed him, I felt it was a vote of no confidence and lack of respect."

Shortly after the interview, Bryant was told he would not kick in the final preseason game and Nugent won the job. The Bucs noted that Bryant had only made 2-of-10 field goal attempts from 50-plus yards at that point in his career and presumably wanted a stronger leg.

They got it, albeit an inaccurate one. Nugent made only two of his first six field goal tries (two were blocked) and was released after four games.

By this time, Bryant was trying to stay active and salvage his career kicking for the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League. He never got a call from the Bucs. Instead, Dominik signed Shane Andrus, who had never attempted a field goal in an NFL game. He went 0-for-1 and lasted three games.

That hastened the signing of Barth, who was terrific and kicked three field goals of 50-yards or more against the Dolphins. Soon, it was Pat Murray, who held the gig down until he was beaten out by Brindza. He lasted only a few games. Then it was Barth back to the rescue. You get the idea. The Bucs have converted 28 of their 42 field-goal attempts (66 percent) since the beginning of the 2016 season, the lowest percentage in the league.

"It's not a team that points fingers," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.

On Friday, Folk said he planned to take the next three days off. He may get the rest of the fall off as well. The Bucs are scheduling to workout kickers next week.

Whatever happened to Bryant? He eventually got picked up by the Falcons and is preparing to play in his 210 game Oct. 15 against Miami following a bye week. Last year, he made 34-of-37 field goal attempts, a career-best 91.9 percent. He's perfect in nine attempts this year. He's also made 8 of his last 10 field goals from 50-yards plus.

Turns out the worst decision the Bucs made was kicking Bryant to the curb.

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud

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