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Matt Gay is the latest face of heartbreak in Tampa Bay, and that’s a shame

The rookie kicker had endeared himself to fans in just a short time in Tampa Bay, but fell into the same trap as previous Bucs kickers on Sunday.
New York Giants linebacker Markus Golden (44) celebrates as Matt Gay (9) looks at the ground after Gay missed a 34 yard field goal in the final seconds Sunday. When drafted by the Bucs in April, Gay said Tampa Bay's woeful kicking history had nothing to do with him. It does now. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
New York Giants linebacker Markus Golden (44) celebrates as Matt Gay (9) looks at the ground after Gay missed a 34 yard field goal in the final seconds Sunday. When drafted by the Bucs in April, Gay said Tampa Bay's woeful kicking history had nothing to do with him. It does now. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Sep. 23, 2019

TAMPA — He was prepared to face the questions, to have microphones and cameras thrust in his face. He was prepared to face his teammates, as they came steadily past to whisper words of encouragement. Matt Gay seemed to have taken heartbreak’s best shot, and wasn’t giving an inch.

At least not until he had to face the private hell of his own thoughts.

Sitting in a chair in front of his locker as the rest of the room emptied, Gay’s chin dropped down onto his chest and he let out a breath deep enough for innocence to escape.

This is what it looks like to let a roomful of friends and teammates down. This is what it feels like to confront your darkest professional fear. And maybe, just maybe, this is the realization of how long and harrowing Tampa Bay’s placekicking nightmare extends.

Less than 30 minutes earlier, the 25-year-old Gay had missed a 34-yard field goal that cost the Buccaneers a victory on the final play of a 32-31 loss to the New York Giants.

And now with his backpack, and the weight of the world on his shoulders, he stood up to make his exit from the Bucs locker room at Raymond James Stadium. Before he got even one step, Jameis Winston called his name. Gay walked to the quarterback’s locker and bent over for a quick hug and conversation.

When he stood up again, Gay’s composure finally seemed shaken.

Walking toward the exit with glassy eyes, he talked about the compassion he had just been shown by a group of men he had not even met five months ago.

“It means everything to me. It means everything to know they have my back in moments like this,’’ Gay said. “Jameis just told me to keep my head up. He said to keep my head up because they’re going to need me again this year.’’

The NFL season is full of moments such as this. Gay’s pain is no different than a kicker who misses a field goal in Pittsburgh in October, or a quarterback who throws an interception in Houston in November.

The only real difference here is the perspective of time. Tampa Bay is too accustomed to this, and Gay is too new to this. He was brought here specifically to solve a franchise’s wayward kicking problems, and he has spent the past several months convincing the world he was the right choice.

He came here from Utah with a calmness about him. He was confident. He was mature. And all of those fresh expectations were wiped clean with a kick that sailed just a foot or so too far to the right.

“I told him, “Take your time, let it marinate.’ It’s going to hurt for a while,’’ said running back Peyton Barber, who stopped by Gay’s locker. “But I said, “Don’t let this define you. This doesn’t define you as a kicker or a man.’’’

For the record, Gay said he felt fine before the kick. He wasn’t spooked by a couple of misses on extra points earlier, and he wasn’t affected by coach Bruce Arians choosing to take a delay of game penalty to move the ball back an extra five yards.

“I just didn’t hit it clean, and it didn’t go in,’’ he said.

Like the home opener a couple of weeks earlier, plans had already been made for Gay and long snapper Zach Triner to go to holder Bradley Pinion’s house after Sunday’s game.

Pinion said they would eat, relax and try to forget a kick they could no longer do anything about.

“You hurt for him. Everybody in here hurts for him at that moment,’’ Pinion said. “But I’ve played with some of the greatest who have ever done this — Phil Dawson and Robbie Gould — and Gay will be on that list too. We believe in him, and he’ll be on that list for a very long time. He’ll make way more game-winners than misses.’’

Less than a month ago, Gay’s wife gave birth to their first child in Utah. He said walking out of the hospital to catch a flight back to Tampa hours after the delivery was the hardest thing he’d ever done.

His family has not yet made the trip to Tampa to join Gay.

“So he’s all alone?’’ I asked Pinion.

No, he said.

“He has us.’’

John Romano can be reached at Follow at romano_tbtimes.

Bucs Preview 2019

A look ahead at Bruce Arians’ first year in Tampa Bay and a critical season for Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers.


  1. Teddy Bridgewater could be on the market if Drew Brees returns to New Orleans, and Bucs head coach Bruce Arians likes Bridgewater.
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians shakes hands with quarterback Jameis Winston (3) after his touchdown pass against the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 8 in Tampa.
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is seen during warmups just prior to taking on Houston Texans Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019 in St. Petersburg.
  4. The Bucs posted a video Tuesday that teases changes to the team's uniforms.
  5. FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2017, file photo, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson sits on the sideline with his wife, Gayle Benson, before an NFL football game in New Orleans. An Associated Press review of public tax documents found that the Bensons' foundation has given at least $62 million to the Archdiocese of New Orleans and other Catholic causes over the past dozen years, including gifts to schools, universities, charities and individual parishes. (AP Photo/Bill Feig, File)
  6. Cardinals rookie David Johnson manages only 35 yards on 15 carries in Saturday’s game vs. the Packers.
  7. Whether Quinton Flowers (9) lines up at quarterback, running back or wide receiver this season for the Tampa Bay Vipers, the XFL's double-pass rule will allow him to use his arm as a weapon.
  8. Derrick Brooks, co-chairman of the Super Bowl 55 host committee, holds a helmet with the new logo during a press conference last September in Tampa.
  9. The 1979 Rams got to play a Super Bowl in Pasadena, right down the street from their own stadium, because the Bucs, with quarterback Doug Williams and coach John McKay, failed to score a point in the NFC Championship Game at Tampa Stadium.
  10. Raymond James Stadium will be filled on Feb. 7, 2021, for Super Bowl 55, but will the Bucs be on the field or in front of their televisions? Coming off a 7-9 season, the Bucs are nobody's darlings when it comes to preseason betting lines, but they may be closer to the big game than you think.
  11. In the new XFL, quarterbacks won't have to relay play calls to offensive skill position players. They will hear the calls directly from the sideline.
  12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) works with kids from Roland Park K-8 during a presentation introducing the Jr. Bucs School Program after Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp at One Buc Place on August 22, 2018. The program will work with more than 300 middle and high schools in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. It includes player-led instructional videos, flag football kits, new fitness equipment and an enhanced reading program for every student.