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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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Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes

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@ForgedAxeWhis

Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes

The reigning Stanley Cup champions seemingly have boat loads of team fun while on the road. 

A day after cruising past the Vancouver Canucks (5-2, win) at their place, the team enjoyed a little friendly competition inside an...axe throwing arena. 

Forged Axe Throwing is an indoor facility in the countryside of Whistler, British Columbia. 

Dressed as lumberjacks, the Caps dove right into their team-building activity. 

Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom went head-to-head for Swedish bragging rights. 

To no one's surprise, Alex Ovechkin is as much of a goal-scorer as he is an axe-thrower. 

But it was T.J. Oshie who walked away with the Forged Axe Throwing title on this day. 

Needless to say, Tuesday wasn't your average off day for a National Hockey League team. But as reigning champs, everyday is atypical. 

 

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Wizards and Warriors have an eventful history for two teams that don't play each other often

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USA Today Sports

Wizards and Warriors have an eventful history for two teams that don't play each other often

For two teams that only play each other twice a season and have no regional ties, the Wizards and Warriors have an underrated history between them. There have been thrilling games, memorable moments and a good deal of bad blood between the players.

As far as game results, Golden State has held the upper hand. That sounds about right, given the Warriors have won three of the last four championships. Since John Wall entered the league, the Warriors are 13-2 against Washington.

Before the Wizards take on the Warriors in the Bay Area on Wednesday night (10 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington), take a look back at some of the most consequential games between the teams...

March 23, 2013 - Klay vs. John

A lot of people forget about this one. Back in March of 2013, long before the Warriors became a dynasty, Wall was ejected for a confrontation with Klay Thompson at Oracle Arena.

While they were each chasing a loose ball, Thompson shoved Wall to the ground with his shoulder and Wall took offense. Before the ball was inbounded for the next play, Wall went up to Thompson and confronted him with a healthy amount of trash-talk.

The refs saw it and sent Wall to the showers. The Wizards ended up losing the game.

Feb. 28, 2017 - Durant gets hurt in his return to D.C.

Kevin Durant made the surprising decision to join the Warriors in the summer of 2016 and few fanbases were more shocked than those of the Wizards, who had long seen their franchise as a logical landing spot for the hometown star. Durant didn't make his return to Washington with his new team until February of that season, and his homecoming didn't last long.

Just 1:33 into his night, Durant suffered a knee injury when teammate Zaza Pachulia fell into him in a game against the Wizards. The injury initially appeared to be very serious, though Durant was able to return just over a month later.

One of the worst parts about it all was that Pachulia clearly flopped unnecessarily on the play. Another reason to hate flopping.

April 2, 2017 - Jennings vs. JaVale

Neither of these guys are still on the teams at play, but this was a good one. Late in the 2016-17 season, the Wizards were getting blown out by the Warriors when center JaVale McGee decided to shoot a three from the corner.

Wizards guard Brandon Jennings thought that crossed the line of good sportsmanship. Golden State was up big and there is an unwritten rule in basketball not to run up the score at the very end.

So, Jennings pushed McGee to the ground and afterwards both had a series of entertaining quotes about the matter. A league-wide debate about unwritten rules also broke out in the ensuing days.

Among the things said in the aftermath, Jennings pointed out how he could have done more.

"Thank God he didn't go to the rack," Jennings said. "It probably would have been worse for him... I'm old school. Like I said, he better be glad he shot that three and didn't go to the rack."

Oct. 27, 2018 - Draymond vs. Brad

Wizards fans should remember this well because it was the most recent spat between the teams. On Oct. 27 of last year, Bradley Beal and Draymond Green were both ejected for a fight at Oracle. It started after a missed shot with the Wizards on offense as both players were jockeying for position to grab the rebound.

They got tangled and ended up falling out of bounds into the stands in a tussle. Many players joined in on the fun.

Amazingly, neither Beal or Green were suspended. Others weren't as lucky, including Markieff Morris and Carrick Felix who stepped onto the court when they were supposed to remain on the bench. 

None of this is to suggest the Wizards and Warriors will be at each other's throats on Wednesday night, but history suggests it should be an entertaining game.

 

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