Matt Bryant can feel the heat.
He knows as well as anybody else that the way he's kicked in the pre-season is not going to guarantee him a roster spot. He knows that the Falcons have a sordid history at kicker over the last several seasons, one that means that Mike Smith's finger is going to be a little more itchy on the trigger. He knows there's a lot working against him.
Say what you will about Bryant, but he's no wimp. If it were just a question of mental toughness and focus, no doubt he'd clear this hurdle with room to spare.
But I don't believe it's his mind that is failing Bryant. I think it's his leg.
This Associated Press article is required reading for Falcons fans. In many ways, it articulates everything we've been discussing about Bryant for the last few weeks. It also shows us that the Falcons are not endowed with infinite patience:
"That's one of many concerns I have,'' coach Mike Smith said Tuesday. "You've got to kick the ball between the uprights, especially on extra points. When you're kicking a 50-yarder, it's a little bit different situation. But we've got to make extra points.''
For his part, Bryant blames switching up his motion after nearly falling down on the baseball diamond against the Dolphins, which makes plenty of sense. But it ignores the other field goals he's missed this pre-season, or the fact that Bryant only hit three of five field goals last season. It ignores the fact that he's now on shaky ground in a job that he was given with only the most fleeting of challenges from Steve Hauschka. It's becoming increasingly apparent that Bryant's accuracy is slipping, and signs of that are there that we never saw before Jason Elam fell apart last season. It's troubling.
I think the Falcons have to kick the tires on the losers of other battles around the NFL, but after really taking a close look at the candidates, it's unlikely they'll find anybody better on paper than Bryant. The best option by far would be Shayne Graham, who has a career 85.2 percent field goal make rate, but if he loses to Billy Cundiff in Baltimore the Ravens are a seriously screwed up team. Everybody else has been about the same or worse than Bryant in their careers.
It's just deeply frustrating to me that the Falcons can't seem to lock down a solid kicker to take care of things. The SI article mentions Jay Feely, but even he wasn't all that great in his last two seasons in Atlanta. From there, we've relied on an ancient Morten Andersen to bail us out from a series of miscues, and then Bryant himself to bail us out from Jason Elam's sudden and terrifying implosion last season. Uncharacteristically for a team that has kept an eye on its future at all times, the Falcons have repeatedly patched kicker with the most ragged bandages they can find.
So here we are, with Matt Bryant needing to kick well in an otherwise meaningless pre-season game to save a job he looked to have all but locked up. I hope he succeeds. If he doesn't, the Falcons could be in a hell of a lot of trouble if and when the offense stalls out on the 30 this season, whether it's Bryant or Kris Brown or someone we haven't even considered making the attempt.