tampabay.com

Bryant's mind okay; it's his leg

By JOANNE KORTH and STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published December 1, 2005


TAMPA - Matt Bryant is past the mental anguish of missing a potential game-tying field goal Sunday against the Bears. If only his hamstring recovered as quickly.

Bryant, who missed a 29-yard attempt wide right with 2:47 left, did not practice Wednesday and is questionable against the Saints because of a right hamstring strain. He tweaked the muscle on the game's opening kickoff, and the injury might have contributed to his late-game miss.

"Is it getting better? Yes," Bryant said. "Is it 100 percent cured over the last two days? No. But it's better and better each day. There are studies that say if you stay positive it helps your body heal quicker, so that's the mind-set."

As a precaution, the team signed kicker Todd France to the practice squad Tuesday. France was in training camp with the Bucs but lost the job to Bryant.

France kicked in three games for the Eagles in October while David Akers was out with a hamstring injury. He made six of seven field goals and all five extra points but was released when Akers returned. France has been working out at home the past month.

"I'm an insurance policy in case Matt can't go on Sunday," said France, who made seven of seven field goals and was impressive on kickoffs during practice. "Guys in my position just have to stay ready in case they get a call."

Bryant is an 81-percent career field goal kicker in four NFL seasons but has had hamstring problems before. He missed five games with the Giants in 2003.

Before Sunday's miss, Bryant was 15-of-17 in his first season with the Bucs, including a game-winning 45-yarder the previous week at Atlanta. His other misses were from 46 and 52 yards.

Bryant's confidence is not shaken.

"Mentally, I'll say I'm tougher than anybody else on this Earth," Bryant said. "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, and if you knew how strong I was then, you can only imagine how strong I am now. ... I want to get back in there next time and make the kick to help this team win and keep going toward the playoffs."

A BETTER VIEW: Running back Derek Watson , who was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster Tuesday, does not anticipate being part of the game plan but looks forward to being on the sideline Sunday.

"I think it's one of those things where they see a guy working hard and maybe he needs to be in a position to be on the sideline and see the speed of the game before I get out there someday," said Watson, who was impressive during preseason games. "It will be good to see the realistic speed of the game."

NO LOOKING AHEAD: No one can accuse the Bucs defense of looking past the New Orleans offense.

The 3-8 Saints have proven they present an offensive threat, particularly in their past two games against New England and the New York Jets.

"Right now, the Saints are moving the ball on everybody," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "Even in the games they've lost, they've obviously established a good offensive tempo. It's a big challenge for us defensively."

The Bucs have had some uneven defensive performances of late, but against a familiar division opponent with an offense that has proven tough to stop in the past, the Bucs are paying attention.

More reason to heed the Saints: They had 23 first downs and 338 passing yards in a 24-17 loss to the Patriots. And last week against the Jets, quarterback Aaron Brooks threw three touchdown passes in a 21-19 win.

Brooks has found a reliable target in receiver Donte Stallworth , taking some load off of Joe Horn . And Brooks himself remains a playmaker.

"You have to respect him," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "You know that he has the ability to get hot, and you have to expect that he's going to be hot because he's got it in him. He's got a big arm, he's fearless, he feels he can fit any ball into any situation and that makes him dangerous."

TRANSACTION: The Bucs re-signed receiver and former Gaither High standout J.R. Russell to the practice squad after releasing him a day earlier.

INJURY REPORT: Safety Will Allen (knee), tight end Anthony Becht (knee), linebacker Marquis Cooper (chest) and defensive end Dewayne White (hamstring) are questionable.