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Bryant keeps coming through in clutch for Falcons

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Bryant keeps coming through in clutch for Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) When Matt Bryant is on the sideline, fully aware the game might be decided by his right leg, he'll drape a towel over his head to shut out the world.

He barely pays attention to the game. He doesn't hear the crowd, no matter how loud the fans are.

A sense of calmness sweeps over him.

``That towel acts like a force field,'' Bryant said. ``For whatever reason, that seems to block out of a lot of things.''

No kicker has been more clutch than Bryant over the last three years - and especially this season. He has won three games for the Atlanta Falcons in the final minute of regulation, including a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds left in last week's thrilling playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

On Sunday, the Falcons will host the NFC championship game for the first time. And, if their game against the San Francisco 49ers goes down to the wire - and, let's not forget, three of the last five conference title games have gone to overtime - they have full confidence that Bryant will come through again.

``You don't need to panic when you're in a situation like that,'' said offensive guard Justin Blalock. ``You know you've got a guy that everyone has faith in. Once you cross midfield, you know he's going to put it through. That takes a load off the rest of the team.''

Since the start of the 2010 season, Bryant has won five games for the Falcons with field goals in the final minute of the fourth quarter, more than any other kicker, according to STATS LLC. Shaun Suisham of the Pittsburgh Steelers is next on the list with three game-winning kicks. No one else in the league has more than two during that span.

Bryant has really been a godsend for the top-seeded Falcons (14-3) this season. When Atlanta was on the verge of an upset loss to Carolina, Bryant connected on a 40-yard field goal with 5 seconds left for a 30-28 victory. When the team struggled against lowly Oakland, he knocked through a mammoth 55-yarder with 1 second remaining for a 23-20 victory.

But no kick was bigger than the one he made last Sunday. Shaking off the shock of blowing a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Falcons completed two long passes in the final half-minute to set up Bryant's winning kick.

The Seahawks called a timeout trying to freeze Bryant, who actually missed wide-right on what was really a practice kick.

But when it counted, there was never any doubt.

``For whatever reason, I feel like I'm hitting the ball a lot better now than I have in a long time,'' the 37-year-old Bryant said. ``Even that 49-yarder, I mean, it would've been good from 60 yards plus. I smoked that one. To be honest with you, I think that's the best ball I've ever hit.''

No kicker this season other than Bryant and Suisham has more than one winning field goal in the last minute of regulation, according to STATS.

But this is nothing new for Bryant, who's always had a burning desire to win at everything he does, who's always been a guy who wanted the ball in his hands - or on his foot - at the end of the game.

He still remembers losing a Little League game when he was 7 or 8 years old, then demanding that his mother get him moved to a better team. He shows no mercy on his 6-year-old son, even when they're playing a game of checkers just for fun.

Bryant's teammates are struck by his serious demeanor.

``I call him the angry kicker,'' linebacker Mike Peterson said. ``He walks around like he's angry, like he's mad at somebody. He's got a little linebacker in him. But he's like that every day ... like he just missed a kick or something. I take it that he's a hard guy, that he's hard on himself.''

Bryant has certainly been hardened by real life.

In 2008, his 3-month-old son Matthew Tryson passed away unexpectedly, apparently from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. One day after the funeral, he returned to kicked three goals in Tampa Bay's victory over the Green Bay Packers. The following season, after signing with the Falcons, his father succumbed to Lou Gehrig's disease on Christmas Day. Bryant attended the funeral in Texas and rejoined the Falcons in time to kick two field goals in their season-ending victory over the Buccaneers.

Just 16 months apart, Bryant lost two of the most important people in his life. In between those life-changing events, he was cut by the Bucs and spent time in the United Football League, playing for a team known as the Florida Tuskers.

Through it all, Bryant learned an important lesson, one that he still tries to pass on to his son, his 16-month-old twins and his stepchildren.

``You learn to practice what you preach,'' Bryant said. ``I think about what would I tell (Tryson). I would tell him to do his best, just I like I tell my kids now to do their best. That's all you can do.''

If there comes a time when a big kick doesn't go through, he'll be angry and disappointed, but not for long.

He's so confident in what he does before goes out on the field that he can live with the result.

``You could miss, or you could make it,'' Bryant said. ``But if you go out there worrying about this or worrying about that, if you have any hesitation except for doing your best, there's so many more bad things that can happen.''

He still hears his father's voice, the man who played such a major role in helping him reach the NFL, cheering him on just like he did when Bryant was a kid playing baseball and soccer.

``To this day,'' the kicker said, ``I hear someone in the background saying, `Go for it!'''

If Bryant trots out for another potential winning kick against the 49ers, he'd surely hear that voice again - and the Falcons would like their chances.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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How to watch the NBA Awards, where Bradley Beal is nominated for Community Assist

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USA TODAY Sports

How to watch the NBA Awards, where Bradley Beal is nominated for Community Assist

Despite the NBA world examining next season’s rookies and their potential in the days following the 2019 NBA Draft, we won’t know until Monday night who the 2018-19 Rookie of the Year is. 

Finally, the NBA Awards are here, and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal is among this year’s nominees. Beal is one of 10 nominees for the 2018-19 Seasonlong NBA Cares Community Assist Award, which celebrates players who have had an exceptional positive impact off the court. 

Working with Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation, Beal’s off-the-court work included mentoring boys and young men specifically from D.C.’s Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. He made at least two visits to the all-male school this year, as NBA Cares explained:

Most notably, Bradley shadowed the principal for a day, participating in activities with his mentees, and gifted students with game tickets, basketball uniforms, toiletries and food for school’s pantry. Bradley later hosted the students to a private, advanced screening of CREED II, and led his mentees on a guided tour the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Joining Beal in the category are the following nominees: LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Pascal Siakam, Donovan Mitchell, Jarrett Allen, Mike Conley, Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton and Dwight Powell. The winner of the award will receive a $25,000 donation to the charity of his choice from the NBA and Kaiser Permanente.

Here’s everything you need to know about the NBA Awards, including how to watch. 

2019 NBA Awards

When: Monday, June 24, 2019
Where: Barker Hangar in Los Angeles
Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TNT

List of Top Awards and Nominees

NBA MVP

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
James Harden, Houston Rockets

Past NBA MVP Winners

2018: James Harden, Houston Rockets
2017: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
2016: Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
2015: Steph Curry Golden State Warriors
2014: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA Rookie of the Year 

Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Luka, Dallas Maverickssssss
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Past NBA Rookie of the Year Winners

2018: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
2017: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
2016: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
2015: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
2014: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Defensive Player of the Year 

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Past NBA Defensive Player of the Year Winners

2018: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
2017: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors 
2016: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
2015: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
2014: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

NBA Sixth Man Award 

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers

NBA Most Improved Player

De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets
Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

NBA Coach of the Year

Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks
Michael Malone, Denver Nuggets
Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers

Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award

Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Jared Dudley, Brooklyn Nets
Channing Frye, Cleveland Cavaliers
Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs
Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat
Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
Kyle Korver, Utah Jazz
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
JJ Redick, Philadelphia 76ers
Garrett Temple, LA Clippers
Thaddeus Young, Indiana Pacers

NBA Sportsmanship Award

Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

Lifetime Achievement Award

Larry Bird
Magic Johnson

Sager Strong Award

Robin Roberts

NBA Cares Community Assist Award

Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Dwight Powell, Dallas Mavericks
Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

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Ted Leonsis reflects on Capitals' induction to D.C. Sports Hall of Fame

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NBC Sports Washington

Ted Leonsis reflects on Capitals' induction to D.C. Sports Hall of Fame

Click "play" in the embedded podcast to listen to the Capitals Talk Podcast interview with Ted Leonsis and click here to subscribe to the podcast.

Just as the party seems to be ending, the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals are finding new ways to celebrate.

Sunday at Nationals Park, the Caps were honored with the "team of distinction" award in the D.C. sports hall of fame, the first-ever award of its kind.

“I think it just shows how this team connected with the fans and as many people have noted, this is one of the most divided cities in the world," Caps majority owner and president of Monumental Sports, Ted Leonsis said to Rob Carlin on the Capitals Talk podcast. "People can’t agree on anything, but they agreed on how much they loved, and how much fun they had and how proud they were that we won the Stanley Cup."

Founded in 1980, the D.C. sports hall of fame honors athletes, sports journalists and executives each year for excellence in D.C. sports. 2019 was the first time an entire team was formally recognized, fitting for the first-ever Stanley Cup championship in D.C.

"It [the honor] is a good capstone on that run," Leonsis said.

Listen to the full episode linked below.

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