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Bryant's misses causing Falcons worry

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Matt Bryant knows how fickle the kicking profession can be.

He's made nearly 82 percent of the field-goal attempts in his career. Still, three misses in the preseason -- including an extra point -- have the Atlanta Falcons worrying about another uncertain season in the kicking game.

''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.''

Bryant is 3 of 5 on field goals in the first three exhibition games, missing from 47 and 50 yards. That wouldn't be a major issue if not for a botched PAT in last week's win at Miami.

He's kicking himself for making a slight change in his motion after the dirt of the baseball infield at Sun Life Stadium nearly caused him to slip on his first extra point.

''I like going out here in practice and doing everything a certain way. Then, to try to do something different, it's not good,'' the 35-year-old Bryant said. ''It's a lesson learned. Do everything the same way every time. Two wrongs don't make a right. I've got to move on and have amnesia for the next game.''

Although Bryant feels like he's got the confidence of his teammates and coaches, he knows it only takes another miss or two to put his job on the line. The Falcons face Jacksonville in their final preseason game Thursday.

The Falcons don't have any other kickers on the roster, but there could be some intriguing possibilities once teams make their final cuts. In Houston, for instance, the Texans must decide between Kris Brown, the last original member of the franchise, and Neil Rackers.

Bryant knew that nothing was secure, even after the Falcons cut ex-Baltimore kicker Steve Hauschka in mid-August.

''People asked me how the competition was going, and I was like, 'I'm not just competing against him,''' Bryant said. ''There's 31 other teams with two kickers apiece (in training camp). You've got to go out there and own your spot, own your position.''

Stability at this high-profile position has eluded the Falcons since Jay Feely left after 2003. They've gone through six kickers in the last six years. More troubling, they've had to make a midseason change three of the last four years.

Michael Koenen -- still the team's punter -- flopped in 2006 when the Falcons tried to give him all the kicking duties. Matt Prater missed three of four attempts before he was dumped two games into the '07 season. Both times, Atlanta turned to ancient Morten Andersen to finish out.

The Falcons seemed to have solved the problem when longtime Denver star and Brookwood grad Jason Elam was signed as a free agent in 2008. He had one brilliant season -- 29 of 31 on field goals and perfect on 42 extra points -- but inexplicably lost his touch in '09.

Elam was cut after 11 games, having made just 12 of 19 field goals and missing a PAT. Enter Bryant, who had been kicking in the UFL after being cut loose by the Buccaneers.

Although Bryant was certainly more effective than Elam (7 of 10), he connected only once in four attempts from at least 40 yards. That's what cost him his job in Tampa Bay, where he made 32 of 38 in 2008 -- but only 5 of 11 from 40 yards and beyond.

''When a kicker makes a mistake, everybody in the stadium knows about it,'' Smith said. ''When an offensive lineman or defensive lineman makes a mistake, you have to have a trained eye to really know who made the mistake. But special teams are not like offense and defense. When you're out there on special teams, you've got one snap. ... You don't get a second chance.''

Bryant said he's hardly missed at all during practice, and he's certainly shown plenty of mental toughness during his career.

His 3-month-old son died unexpectedly in 2008. One day after the funeral, Bryant returned to kicked three goals in Tampa Bay's victory over the Green Bay Packers.

Last December, his father -- a major influence in helping him reach the NFL -- succumbed to Lou Gehrig's disease. After attending the funeral in Texas, Bryant rejoined the Falcons and kicked two field goals in their season-ending victory over the Buccaneers, which gave Atlanta back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history.

''I'm kicking with all these people on my back, so to speak,'' he said. ''You can find motivation everywhere.''

Notes: The Falcons cut two more players Tuesday to reach the NFL-mandated limit of 75 before the final exhibition game. The most notable name was DT Thomas Johnson, who was waived after starting 10 games last season. Injuries hurt his chances to stay on the team. The Falcons also terminated S Matt Giordano with an injury settlement. He signed with the Falcons in March after spending last season with Green Bay.