Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs Beat: Barth kicking at record pace
JACKSONVILLE - Truly lost amid the wreckage of what has become a growingly forgettable 2011 season is the play of the one Buccaneer who undoubtedly has been Tampa Bay's most consistent and clutch performer. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Even during the best of times, place kickers such as Connor Barth tend to go unnoticed. They're much like offensive linemen in the sense you often don't notice them until they mess up. That being the case, it's no wonder few have noticed Barth this year.The kicker Tampa Bay pulled off the scrap heap in November 2009 has been near perfect this season, hitting on 18 of 18 extra point attempts and 24 of 26 field goals. His 92.3-percent field goal success rate ranks second in the NFL. Only Falcons kicker Matt Bryant, the former Buc, has a higher field-goal percentage at 95.0. But Bryant, who does most of his kicking in the controlled environment of the Georgia Dome, hasn't been as successful as Barth in the area kickers sometimes call the "Money Zone.'' The "Money Zone'' is the space between the 30- and 39-yard lines. It earned its nickname because it's where a kicker's skills are tested by kicks of 40- to 49-yards. No one has passed those tests more regularly this season than Barth. When the North Carolina product kicked field goals of 44, 46 and 47 yards during the Bucs 38-19 loss to Carolina last week he improved to 11-for-12 in that range with a 92-percent success rate, tops among kickers with three or more tries. Barth quickly credited long snapper Andrew Economos and holder Mike Koenen. "We feel really comfortable with each other," Barth said, "and the O-line is really protecting well. "I like to give the credit to them, because they make it easier for me. There's never really much of a rush, there's a good pocket for me to get into and we're getting the results, so it's all good right now.'' It's so good, Barth is on pace to tie the Bucs record of 32 field goals in a season, set first by Martin Gramatica in 2002 and tied by Bryant in 2008. He's showing virtually unmatched consistency, too. With 13 straight field goals made, Barth owns the second-longest current consecutive field goal streak in the league. Only Kansas City's Ryan Succop – with 16 straight – has a longer streak. But Succop's most recent field goals didn't put him in the same rare company as Barth's. When Barth hit on his 44-, 46-, 47- and 50-yard field goals last week, he joined Morten Andersen and Rod Bironas as the only kickers in NFL history to kick four field goals of 40-or-more yards in one half. "You really have to feel good about where he is,'' Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said of Barth. "When you're not talking about special teams, that's usually a good thing.''