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Matt Gayâs last of the 2019 season, unfortunately for him, was just like the two that preceded it: all misses, from 49, 44, and 34 yards. Each were aimed at the goal post in the south end zone at Raymond James Stadium.
If he had made just one, the Bucs donât lose to the Falcons in overtime of the regular-season finale on a walkoff pick-six thrown by James Winston â his last pass in a Tampa Bay uniform.
‘âDefinitely, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth and that feeling of wanting to get back out there and get another one and put it through,â’ Gay said. âYou canât get that, because itâs the last game. So itâs being able to take that and use it as motivation to be able to correct some things and get better, get stronger mentally. I know that last game was not a reflection of my talent or who I am.â’
Gay says he has worked on simplifying his approach. He improved his conditioning so he wonât wilt late in the long season. Heâs getting stronger mentally.
So why is coach Bruce Arians losing confidence two weeks before the season opener at New Orleans and cranking up the kicking carousel again?
Two new kickers, Ryan Succop and Cody Parkey, are going through coronavirus protocol and could have a tryout early this week.
âIâm looking for consistency on the gimmes,â’ Arians said Sunday. âWe canât miss extra points. We canât give away the easy points. Kicks inside the 30-yard line should be automatic.
âWhen we drive the back down to the 10 and you miss a field goal, thereâs nothing that tears a team more apart on offense than, âHey, we just took the ball down the field and we didnât get any points.â The gimmes. Whoâs the most consistent.â’
Neither Gay, 26, nor especially challenger Elliott Fry, 25, have been very consistent during training camp.
Fry was horrific in Fridayâs scrimmage, clanking an extra point off the left upright following Tom Bradyâs 98-yard touchdown drive. He also missed a 49-yard field goal. On Sunday, Fry went 3-of-5 in field goals while Gay was 4-of-5, his only miss coming from 50-plus yards.
Gay also made both field goals in the scrimmage, but he has been inconsistent during practice in camp.
Succop, 33, an 11-year veteran, was the Titansâ franchise leader in field-goal percentage entering last season, but his recovery from offseason knee surgery led to two stints on injured reserve.
Parkey, 28, has kicked for the Eagles, Browns, Dolphins, Bears and Titans. But Parkey is most known for a kick he missed â a potential winning 48-yarder with five seconds left in the Bearsâ 16-15 NFC wild-card playoff loss to the Eagles in the 2018 season.
If not for the Falcons game, Gay wouldâve had a much better rookie season. He missed a winning field goal in overtime against the Giants, then righted the ship before finishing poorly. He missed five of his last eight field goals to finish the season with a 77.1 percentage. Gay was 43-of-48 on extra points.
âCompetition, thatâs just the baseline in the NFL,â Gay said. âEverybody is fighting for a job. I mean, if you donât perform, somebody is right behind you ready to take your spot. And so itâs no news to me that guys are in here competing for a spot and theyâre going to bring competition in because competition is going to breed success. And you know, I think the potential of our team this year is super high, and I think the kicking position is very important. So I think obviously theyâre going to look for, you know, who they can feel confident with going into the season, and if I come in and do my thing and do my part, if I feel confident in myself and take care of what Iâm doing, that will be me going into the season.â’
Arians had hoped the Bucs would be past their kicking curse, which began with the release of Matt Bryant in 2009.
Since then they have endured more than their share of misses, from Cairo Santos, Chandler Catanzaro, Nick Folk, Roberto Aguayo, Kyle Brindza, Patrick Murray, Rian Lindell, Connor Barth, Shane Andrus and Mike Nugent.
The Bucs burned a second-round pick in 2016 on Aguayo out of Florida State. Gay was a fifth-rounder out of Utah.
ââIâve had some really good days, some days I would like back,ââ Gay said. âI feel really confident. I spent the offseason fixing some stuff and getting used to it. But with COVID it was really tough to get a live snap and hold, and some real (opportunities) and things like that. Just taking kind of the new kicking style or technique that Iâm using and just kind of getting used to it with a snap and hold, a line in front of you. … I think Iâm getting more comfortable with it every day.â’
âI just shortened it up a little bit,â’ Gay said. âSimplified some things. Less room for error. Some things that are more repeatable, consistent, that I can draw on every day, rep after rep. Just getting more used to it. Getting more confident day after day.â’
With Gay, being in field-goal range means he has stepped off the bus outside the stadium.
But he has struggled with the shorter kicks, particularly aiming at the uprights in the south end zone at RJS.
âThat end is open, so sometimes the wind can swirl in and do some different things,â’ Gay said. âSometimes you feel like it is going one way and the ball goes the other. I really think itâs to the point now where itâs just a mental thing.â’
But in this season of Tom Brady, nothing can be left to chance. He drove the trade for the Bucs to acquire tight end Rob Gronkowski from the Patriots.
And you can bet he has the number for kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriotsâ all-time scoring leader.
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