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Gramatica at top of his game

Bucs kicker recovers after missing a 29-yarder at Philadelphia and accounts for all of the offense with 4 field goals.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 28, 2002

Bucs kicker recovers after missing a 29-yarder at Philadelphia and accounts for all of the offense with 4 field goals.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was anything but a relaxing week for Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica. He was bothered by his 29-yard, fourth-quarter miss in Philadelphia. And, by his account, he didn't have the best week of practice.

All of that can be forgotten.

After hitting four field goals, including 52, 53 and 47 yards, respectively, in the fourth, Gramatica can relax.

Probably somewhere in Hawaii in February.

"He's clutch," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "I'm a Lakers fan, and he's does things similar to what Robert Horry does to teams. They feel like they're winning and all of a sudden, he hits that big 3 and takes their breath away from them. That's what he did.

"The Panthers got hyped. They were jumping up, the music was playing, and then he comes in and knocks the field goal down. Then he comes back and knocks in the game winner. That's Martin. That's what he does."

What he does most of the time, when he has protection, a good snap and a solid hold, is prove why he is considered one of the league's premier kickers.

Gramatica, 5 feet 7 and 170 pounds, had the biggest impact Sunday. Entering the game, Gramatica had converted 11 of 16 field-goal attempts and needed a confidence boost. He got one in the first, converting a 32-yard field goal that gave the Bucs a 3-0 lead.

"It's definitely a lot different from last week," Gramatica said. "When you miss a kick like you did last week, when you let the team down, it hurts, it kills you all week. It was a rough week, I can tell you that.

"I was kind of nervous coming into the game. In warmups I felt okay, and then making the first kick I gained some confidence and felt pretty good."

But not nearly as well as he felt in the final minutes of the fourth. Gramatica converted 52- and 53-yarders to tie the score at 9 and then, with 10 seconds left, calmly drilled the winning 47-yarder.

"To be honest, we think he's the best in the league, and what better way to come out of a slump," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "All four were long, and we've got plenty of confidence in him. Our field-goal team has been scrutinized the past few weeks, but as Coach (Jon Gruden) says, you never know when the hat's going to be on you, and the hat was on the protection unit of the field-goal team today."

Changes in the field-goal unit helped Gramatica. It struggled in past weeks to protect the kicker. The team brought in free-agent long-snapper Ryan Benjamin two weeks ago after it released Morris Unutoa.

"As I said before, the guys up front have been doing an outstanding job blocking, snapping and holding," Gramatica said. "When they do that, I don't feel any pressure at all. I feel very comfortable just kicking."

Special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia said the effort at the line of scrimmage should not be overlooked.

"First thing is it's good for those guys up front," Bisaccia said. "We've been in a bit of a battle. We've got two field goals blocked, and those guys took it as a personal challenge. I thought they protected their (butts) off today. Obviously I'm learning, but guys have to come in and do their jobs and make plays. We did that today and protected really well. As for Martin, I don't think there's one better. I love him."

Also earning praise was Benjamin. The River Ridge High and University of South Florida product has settled in with the Bucs and has put their fears to rest.

"He's been awesome," Gramatica said. "He puts the ball on the money and all (holder) Tom (Tupa) has to do is catch the ball and put it on the spot. That helps us on the operation time, helps us be quicker and helps the guys up front. He's been snapping great."

Added safety John Lynch: "Take Ryan Benjamin, what is he doing three weeks ago, fixing air conditioning? Now, three perfect snaps. That's what it takes."

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