While offensive and defensive MVPs had a clear-cut winner, deciding who was the most valuable player on special teams took a bit more deliberation. At the midpoint of this past season, the choice was return specialist Devin Hester. But by year’s end, I think it’s fair to say that kicker Matt Bryant leapfrogged him.
Bryant finished the year with two game-winning field goals, lifting the Falcons over the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 and Carolina Panthers in Week 11. He should have had another in Week 12 against the Cleveland Browns, but unfortunately the Falcons defense collapsed in the final 44 seconds to lose that game. Bryant only missed three out of his 32 field-goal attempts all year, all of them coming from beyond 53 yards. But he still managed to connect seven times from beyond 50 yards, including a 54-yarder in Week 6 against the Chicago Bears to tie the game midway through the third quarter.
Making Bryant’s accomplishments even a bit more impressive is the fact that he did it all at age 39, putting him behind only Adam Vinatieri and Phil Dawson as the league’s oldest kickers. Typically kicking skills diminish at such an advanced age, but that seemed to be anything but the case for Bryant in 2014.
Of course, Hester alongside punter Matt Bosher and wide receiver Eric Weems deserve to be honored as well. Hester led the NFL in both yards per punt return (13.3), kickoff returns (45) and kickoff return yards (1,128) on his way to a Pro Bowl bid. He was without a doubt one of the league’s premier return specialists, but unfortunately that might have been held against him as I considered this honor. His usual standard of excellence may simply be too high, to the point that 2014 was considered an outstanding, albeit normal year for him.
The same can be said of Bosher, who has regularly managed to flip field position for the Falcons over the past several years. Bosher is so good that his poor performances are more recognizable than his good ones because of how relatively rare the former are.
Weems was a standout on special teams coverage, showing that his skills in that arena had not diminished in the years since he left Atlanta for Chicago. Early in the season, he came close to blocking several punts and often found ways to stand out on coverage units with a big hit or tackle.