INDIANAPOLIS – A large majority of NFL games are decided by three points or less and given the nature of the Colts-Jacksonville series, a close ending on Sunday would not be a surprise.
In the NFL last year, 43 percent of the games had margins within three points at some moment during the fourth quarter, while 50 of 256 league games (19.5 percent) were decided by that margin.
Of the last nine meetings between the Colts and Jaguars, seven have been decided by one possession or less. Four of those seven contests were decided by a field goal or less.
Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee has seven game-winning kicks in his nine seasons. He has connected on three deciding kicks against the Colts – all from the 50-yard range.
Scobee’s 53-yarder in the RCA Dome on October 24, 2004 with 38 seconds left won the game, 27-24. He hit a 51-yarder with four seconds left in Lucas Oil Stadium on September 21, 2008 to win the game, 23-21, and his 59-yarder at the gun in Jacksonville on October 3, 2010 propelled a 31-28 win, and it marked the third-longest game-ending field goal in NFL history.
Vinatieri, a future Hall-of-Famer, recognizes a talented foe when he sees one.
“He’s definitely one of the better ones out there. He’s got a big leg,” said Vinatieri. “I’ve seen him kick bombs from way out. I know he definitely gives them more options when they know they have a guy who can kick it so far.”
Just as no game can be billed as a battle of two individual players – such as quarterbacks – Vinatieri looks at Sunday’s game as one where two performers will be doing what they can to help their respective team win.
“I don’t usually look at it as a challenge. We’re not out there together,” said Vinatieri. “When I get my opportunities, I try to help my team. I’m sure he will do the same. I hope we get more opportunities than they do.”
Opponents must factor in Vinatieri’s talent when facing the Colts. He is the 11th-most accurate kicker in history, converting an 82.8 field goal rate (390-of-471), and his 1,766 points rank ninth in history.
Since joining the Colts in 2006, Vinatieri’s 78.6 percentage (33-of-42) from the 40-49-yard range betters his career percentage (73.0, 103-141), as does his 55.6 percentage (five-of-nine) from 50 yards (50.0, 13-of-26) and beyond.
Vinatieri is getting better with age, something not lost on his position coach, Marwan Maalouf.
“It’s great. I’ve learned a lot, just as much hopefully he’ll learn something from me,” said Maalouf of working with Vinatieri. “He’s been outstanding. Adam is a true professional. He knows the game.”
Maalouf has been around talented players like Phil Dawson and Matt Stover during his years with Cleveland and Baltimore. He relished the chance to work with one of history’s finest when he joined the Colts, and Maalouf loves the purist nature in Vinatieri.
“He is a football player. He’s a guy who appreciates tackles inside the 20 or great punts. He sits in all our special teams meetings, kickoff return, it doesn’t matter what it is,” said Maalouf.
Vinatieri has feasted on pressure moments in his career. Last Sunday was the latest. Indianapolis saw a fourth-quarter lead evaporate and a young team that led most of the game faced a critical situation.
“Something like that one, the momentum had swung a little bit. They came back from a 14-point deficit,” said Vinatieri. “In my mind it was, ‘Let’s go hit this one so we don’t need to worry about coin tosses or overtime.’ For me, it was go out there and clear your mind like always. From 53 yards, warming up before the game we knew we had enough range. It was a matter of getting it on line.”
Vinatieri is self-schooled on mastering such moments, and success for him is a skilled inner trait. Calmness comes with pressurized experience.
“I think it’s something you can develop, trying to calm yourself down,” said Vinatieri. “I’ve never put a heart monitor or blood pressure thing on me to see if my heart rate increases, or any of that kind of stuff.
“If you can focus in on what you’re doing, rather than all the external stuff, I think it keeps you a little bit calmer. It’s an exciting time for everybody at that point. We all get excited.”
Vinatieri sees production and danger in Scobee as he sizes up Sunday. If a game is to be decided by a specialist, Vinatieri would prefer a repeat opportunity from last Sunday.
“When we do our scouting reports, we know he’s the kind of kicker who has a big leg,” said Vinatieri. “When they cross the 50(-yard line), he’s ready to go. The field position (battle) with a guy like him is a major thing. We know what we have to try to do. We have to go out there and try to execute our game plan.”