Sunday's game vs. the Green Bay Packers was the most difficult contest Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant ever played in, but it wasn't because of the opponent.
Bryant's youngest son Tryson passed away in his sleep on Wednesday morning. He was three months old.
Although he didn't practice all week, Bryant put on his uniform and played vs. the Packers on Sunday.
Not only did he play, Bryant made three field goals, including the game-winning 24-yarder that put the Bucs ahead for good over the Packers. His heartfelt performance earned Bryant a game ball from the team.
"I can't say enough about Matt Bryant and what he's been through and what he did today," said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. "I think we all need to kind of just sit back and put ourselves in his shoes and recognize what a great performance he did under the circumstances.
"We gave him the game ball. There's not a lot to say. It's been a very difficult week for our team, and obviously for Matt. All I can say is God bless him and we're praying for him. Everybody out there, thanks for your support. It's been unbelievable."
The Bucs honored Bryant at the beginning of the game as well by introducing him with the starting offense. He ran onto the field to a standing ovation from the 64,000-plus fans at Raymond James Stadium.
"I appreciate it," said Bryant. "I want to thank the Glazers. They helped out tremendously with my transition from here to Texas and back from Texas to Tampa for the game. All the fans – we received a ton of letters and e-mails. Some of the players' wives helped. Our team chaplain and Josh Bidwell and Josh's wife were great. I'm probably going to forget people. Coach Gruden – anybody that has anything to do with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization and the fans – it helped out tremendously just being there for me, my wife and our family. They made it as easy as they could to get through this."
Bryant gave serious consideration to not playing on Sunday, but he decided to play and dedicate his performance to Tryson.
"Did [not playing] cross my mind? Yeah, but I wanted to honor Tryson's name," said Bryant, who fought back tears in his press conference. "I didn't think it was very fair for his life to end so short. This is the best way I could get out and honor him. I miss him and I wish he was here. He was here with me and helped out."
His son's sudden passing almost kept Bryant out of Sunday's game, but Bryant said Tryson helped him get through what he deemed the most difficult game he's ever taken the field for.
"Today was his day. It was all about him for me," said Bryant. "I talked with him throughout the game. I just wanted to remind him that he's my baby boy and he's with me all of the time.
"I can't think of any other game being close to this. The hardest part for me was to stay focused on field goals. I didn't want to have a bad game today. I wanted this to be a place to lift Tryson up and put him in the spotlight. Obviously, my kickoffs were out of whack. I was so drained and tired to do that stuff, but I tried my best. It wasn't that great, but we got the win."
Bryant's decision to play on Sunday inspired his Buccaneer teammates.
"I'm not too philosophical, but having a two-year-old daughter myself I just don't know how you progress through something like that," said Bucs quarterback Brian Griese. "I guess everybody is different. It may have been therapeutic today for Matt. I'm not sure. I couldn't be happier for a guy that has meant so much to our team. I just think it's a big day for him and a big day for us to allow him to get this opportunity."
Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said the team has attempted to support Bryant the best way they can throughout the week and continued to do that during the game on Sunday.
"Sometimes it is not words, it is actions," said Brooks. "I think that giving him hugs and ‘I love you,' is pretty much all we can do. It is a situation that you lean on your faith in God. God's perfect plan is always in place. We showed him the love as a team to give him the space he needs, and also when he came around to give him the love he needs. Today going out there being perfect every time he hits the field, again is a real testament. The healing process is going to be long. But as a team you support that."
Bryant thanked his teammates after Tampa Bay's 30-21 win over Green Bay for their support.
"The kickoff went out of bounds, but they made sure to come out and tell me they had my back," Bryant said of his fourth quarter kickoff. "They said they'd take care of me. I would have hated to have those guys fighting and make that field goal just to have that screwed up kickoff. They bailed me out and I appreciate that."
Bryant needed his teammates on Sunday, but the Buccaneers also needed him.
"He's a man of very few words. Always has been and always will be," said Gruden. "This was very important for him to play today. I think he needed to play and needed football today. Boy, did he deliver for us."
Tryson is survived by Matt and Melissa, and siblings Daniel, Jacob, Joshua, Madison and Tre'.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Tryson's name to March of Dimes.
March of Dimes
405 North Reo Street Suite 105
Tampa, Fl 33609