— TAMPA, Fla. - Unless you've had all compassion surgically removed, you wanted Matt Bryant to make his 24-yard field goal with 2:28 left.
Saturday, the Bryant family buried its youngest member -- 3-month-old Tryson. Sunday, Tryson's father, Matt, was on the field for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing to "honor Tryson's name."
With Tampa trailing the Packers 21-20, Bryant trotted onto the field. If there was ever a time for Justice to peek over her blindfold and tip the scales in one direction or another, this was it.
But Bryant didn't need her. He drilled the last of his three field goals on the day to help Tampa to a stirring 30-21 win over the Green Bay Packers. Then he touched his hand to his mouth and raised it to the sky. A kiss in the wind.
"I really didn't know what I needed today," said an obviously spent Bryant after the game. "Obviously, I just buried my son yesterday. I guess it was good to get out in the sun. It worked out OK."
Tryson Bryant died Wednesday in his sleep. Sunday, his four brothers and one sister -- all wearing their dad's replica jerseys -- laughed and smiled in the runway under the stands at Raymond James Stadium along with their mother, Melissa, and other members of the Bryant family. A respite from the grieving. They needed this.
"Today was his day," said Bryant. "It was all about him. I talked with him in my head throughout the game. I just wanted to remind him he's my baby boy and he's with me at all times."
Bryant made field goals of 23 and 36 yards in the first half as the Bucs got out to a 20-7 lead on the Packers. But a 48-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings and an interception return for a touchdown by Charles Woodson made it 21-20 Green Bay midway through the fourth. By then, it seemed inevitable that the game would come down to Bryant.
When it did -- despite all the crossed fingers and toes and prayers being sent up on his behalf -- Matt Bryant knew what would happen when he got on the field.
"I was going to go 3-for-3 today," he stated. "It didn’t matter. I wasn't gonna let anything screw up the day when I had an opportunity to acknowledge him again."
In the NFL, kickers are a breed apart. They practice mostly on their own and -- in general -- find the spotlight mostly when they don't perform. The Buccaneers bonded around Bryant on Sunday. Every field goal he made was followed by muted, tender celebration. Embraces. Taps on the helmet.
"I can't say enough about Matt Bryant," said Tampa coach Jon Gruden. "What he has been through and what he did today ... I think we all need to sit back and put ourselves in his shoes and recognize what a great performance he did under the circumstances. This was very important for him to play. I think he needed the game today. He needed football today. Boy did he deliver for us."
The only place Bryant's performance lagged was on his kickoffs. They were short, and the one following the go-ahead field goal went out of bounds, giving Green Bay the ball at their own 40.
"I was so drained and tired to (try and) do that stuff," Bryant explained.
But Bryant's teammates delivered for him.
On the second play of the Packers ensuing drive, defensive end Gaines Adams picked off Rodgers and the Bucs offense sealed the game with a security touchdown.
"The kickoff that went out of bounds, (the defense) made sure they came up and told me they had my back and they’d take care of me," said Bryant. "I'd have hated to have gone through the whole game with those guys fighting to have itend on a screwed up kickoff. Those guys bailed me out."
"I knew we were going to need Matt at this game," said Bucs tight end Alex Smith. "I just knew deep down that Matt was going to win this game for us."
Bryant did consider not playing on Sunday. But this game was a tribute to his son.
"It did cross my mind but I wanted to honor Tryson’s name," he said. "I didn’t think it was very fair for his life to end so short. This is the best way that I beli eved I could get out and honor him. I miss him. I wish he was here. But he was here, with me. He helped out."