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Hometown redemption
Kicker Elam goes from goat to hero

ATLANTA - Jason Elam didn't think that there was any way he'd get another chance.

"No. Not even close," the 16-year NFL veteran said. "I was pretty down."

Elam had missed a chip-shot field goal attempt from 33 yards out with 2:50 left - breaking a streak of 30 consecutive successful kicks going back to last year with Denver. When the Chicago Bears scored with 11 seconds left to take a one-point lead, the three-time All-Pro thought he had cost the Atlanta Falcons the game.

Instead, the Brookwood graduate ended up being the hero after all, like he had been so many times with the Broncos before returning home to Atlanta as a free agent this past offseason.

Given another chance on a 48-yarder with a second left, Elam drilled this kick straight through the uprights to give the Falcons an ultra-dramatic 22-20 victory Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

"I'm really happy that kick went through," said the 38-year-old, sounding more relieved than jubilant while addressing the media afterwards.

There had been plenty of jubilation on the field, however, after the winning kick.

Elam was mobbed by teammates as Jonathan Babineaux and Michael Schneck raced down the field to retrieve the ball. Babineaux got to it first to present to Elam, who was soon embraced by Falcons owner Arthur Blank.

"I've been in some wild games, but this one trumps them all," Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said.

"This is one of the most exciting games I've ever seen," said first-year Falcons coach Mike Smith.

Game-winning kicks are nothing new for Elam. This was the 25th of his career, including 16 in the final two minutes of play. He had four last season with the Broncos, three of them ending the game.

But this was his first for the Falcons and it came after he thought he had cost his new team the game.

Ryan's 26-yard sideline pass to Michael Jenkins with a second left gave Elam a chance for redemption that he wasn't expecting.

As the Bears marched down the field after his miss, Elam had paced nervously along the sideline. When Chicago scored so late, he hung his head in dejection and turned away.

"It looked bleak," Smith admitted.

But then came the pass completion from Ryan to Jenkins and Elam, renewed, trotted out for another chance.

Before the miss, he had already connected four times, once from 48 yards just like this attempt.

"You try to make it just like any other kick," Elam said. "It's like a golf swing."

Elam's swing had been as beautiful as Tiger Wood's until the miss. He had been perfect on all 15 of his attempts for the Falcons after making his final 15 for Denver. It was the best streak of his long and successful career.

Holder Michael Koenen took some blame for the streak-breaking miss. "I got the spot back a little bit too far," he said.

Elam's kick was ugly, sailing low and wide. He wouldn't miss again. Not given a second chance.

"I know that he has to feel a heck of a lot better right know than he would have if we didn't have another opportunity to kick that field goal," Smith said. "That was a pressure kick."

"I was crossing my fingers, doing everything superstitious that you can do," Ryan said.

"You just don't want to have the previous kick affect you in any way," Elam said. "So you just try to concentrate on your swing and trust it."

Few legs in NFL history have been more trustworthy. Elam has a share of the NFL record with a 63-yard boot, but his real strength has always been his accuracy.

For his career, Elam has been successful on 81.1 percent of his field goal attempts, making 411 of 507. He made 93.1 in 2006 with Denver and is an NFL-best 94.1 this season with the Falcons.

Elam admits he no longer has the range he once did, but he kicked a 50-yarder in the season opener. His 16 field goals lead the NFL and so do his 61 points.

Most important to Elam, though, is the Falcons' 4-2 record and tie for first place in the NFC South going into their bye week. He was afraid he'd cost Atlanta a win. Instead, he supplied the winning kick after all.

"I think this is going to do great things for our confidence and chemistry," Elam said. "Hopefully we can do something pretty special down the stretch."