ATLANTA - Jason Elam hobbled off the field after a 46-yard field goal in the first quarter Sunday, more relieved than elated.
His troublesome left hip didn't feel as bad as he feared, despite the noticeable limp.
Elam sat out Atlanta Falcons practices last week and was listed as questionable in the NFL injury report. "But there was no way that I was going to miss this game," the Brookwood graduate said.
Facing his old team for the first time, Elam kicked and kicked well against the Denver Broncos. But the game didn't result in a victory or a chance to make a difference at the end.
"Every kicker goes into a game dreaming about making the winning kick," the 16-year NFL veteran said.
It happened time after time for Elam with Denver and once already in his first season back home with the Falcons. He wouldn't get a chance this time, though.
Atlanta was four points down when it started its final drive against the Broncos, making a touchdown necessary. The Falcons almost got it, but Roddy White couldn't hang on to Matt Ryan's long pass in the end zone and Denver held on for a 24-20 victory at the Georgia Dome.
It was the first home loss for the Falcons this season and very different experience for Elam going against a team he served so well for 15 seasons.
"It definitely felt weird," Elam said. "I knew it would."
Expecting it would be an emotional day, Elam went out on the field early for warm-ups and testing his hip was only one of the reasons.
"I knew there would be people I wanted to talk to," he said. "I played with the Broncos a long time. I still root for them."
The 38-year-old won a Super Bowl with the Broncos, tied the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal and went to the Pro Bowl three times.
One of the NFL's most accurate kickers ever, he has shown little dropoff with the Falcons, making 21 of 23 field goals and beating Chicago with a 48-yarder as time expired on Oct. 12.
Elam has done it all despite a painfully inflamed bursa sack in his plant leg. He hurt it before the opener against Detroit and hasn't been completely healthy since.
"It actually felt better than I thought it would," Elam said after adding a 36-yard field goal to his 46-yarder against Denver.
Elam aggravated his hip on his first kick against New Orleans the week before and knows that it is likely something he will have to deal with all season.
The Falcons (6-4) have a key NFC South game Sunday against Carolina (8-2) and know that they can't afford many losses the rest of the way if they hope to make a surprising trip to the playoffs.
Ryan had some rookie moments against Denver's blitz and the Broncos were able to hold Michael Turner mostly in check on the ground. The Falcons defense also allowed a big pass play on Denver's winning touchdown drive.
At least the Falcons won't have to worry about their kicking game, however, as long as Elam's hip holds up. He thinks it will and feels that the schedule will be to his benefit.
Of Atlanta's remaining six games, five are in domes. The only game that isn't is in balmy San Diego.
"It will definitely be easier to keep my hip warm than it would have been if I was still playing in the cold with the Broncos," Elam said. "That should help a lot."