FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — 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.