After clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, head coach Mike Smith was not short on good options to choose from when PFW asked him whom he considered to be the team's MVP of the regular season.
He narrowed it down to a split vote between two players without much hesitation.
"For the regular season this year, I would have to say that two guys come to mind," Smith told PFW. "I think (Matt Ryan has) had a great year. He's being recognized as a Pro Bowl quarterback. Matt's done a very good job."
Smith admitted that his other choice was a bit more "outside the box."
"Another guy, believe it or not, that's played an integral part is our kicker, Matt Bryant."
It was high praise from the head coach of a team that sent a league-high seven players to the Pro Bowl, especially considering the performances of WR Roddy White, who led the league in receptions (115) and RB Michael Turner, who rushed for an NFC-best 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Having the peace of mind provided by a reliable placekicker is something Smith clearly doesn't undervalue.
Bryant connected on 28-of-31 field-goal attempts during the regular season and all 44 of his point-after tries. He broke ties with high-pressure field goals late in games on two occasions where the Falcons held on to win, and he also had a game-winning kick in overtime against the Saints in Week Three. While Ryan made his first Pro Bowl, throwing 28 touchdown passes and only nine interceptions, Bryant was named a first alternate to Eagles PK David Akers, who made 32-of-38 FG attempts.
"Almost half the ballgames (in the NFL) are (decided by) eight points or less and about 25-30 percent are three points or less," Smith said. "It's important to have somebody that you have confidence in at the end of the ballgame that can kick those game-winning field goals or game-tying field goals."
Bryant was looking for another chance with an NFL team when the Falcons signed him on Dec. 1, 2009. He had been cut by the Buccaneers after losing a training-camp battle to Mike Nugent and spent time in the UFL, but has been a nice addition for Atlanta. Bryant has made 35-of-41 FG attempts in his 21 games with the Falcons.