Vinatieri's Return to Form Highlighted 2010 Season for Colts Special Teams
INDIANAPOLIS – Adam Vinatieri came back in a big way.
And while that wasn't the only area special teams contributed to the success of the 2010 Colts, it was among the major storylines not only for the special teams unit, but for a franchise that won a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons.
A year before, Vinatieri missed much of the season with injuries.
And already having played a decade and a half in the NFL, some may have wondered if Vinatieri – long one of the NFL's best clutch kickers – could return to the form that long made him one of the league's most valuable special teams players.
But Vinatieri never lost confidence.
And because he did return, and because he played at a high level, special teams once again played a key role at times in another successful, memorable season for the Colts.
"I can't say that I feel like a new man, but I definitely feel like a repaired man," Vinatieri said shortly after the 2010 regular season.
In a very real sense, he was.
Vinatieri, who not only had been one of the NFL's most reliable clutch kickers in his first 13 NFL seasons but one of the most durable, in 2009 missed 10 games with hip and knee injuries. It was the most games he had missed in a season, and just the second time he had missed a game with an injury.
He converted just seven of nine field goals and his 38 points marked the first time in his career he hadn't scored at least 100 points in a season. He did not kick in the Colts' three post-season games.
But this past season, he not only was twice named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, he was a major reason the Colts won the AFC South, with his 43-yard field goal as time expired giving Indianapolis a 23-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans in the regular-season finale.
Vinatieri, who twice during his career with the New England Patriots kicked late field goals to win Super Bowls, did not miss a field goal in the last 10 games of the season, and during the final four games of the regular season – with the Colts needing victories each week to make the post-season -- he converted nine of nine field goals.
His three field goals were the difference in a 30-28 victory at Tennessee in early December, and his last-play field goal against Tennessee in the season finale was his first-game winner since the 2008 season.
"He has really been solid down the stretch here," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said late in the season. "He has made a lot of kicks.
"You don't take him for granted. I certainly don't."
Vinatieri, in his 15th season and fifth with Indianapolis in 2010, turned in perhaps the best season of his Colts career, missing just two field goals and finishing third in the NFL in scoring with 129 points.
"Last year I was still feeling it quite a bit throughout the season," Vinatieri said. "I tried to get back onto the field as much as I could last year and it took me a little while. But this whole year, this offseason, we spent a lot of time strengthening my back and doing some rehab and making sure that I was healthy."
Asked late in the season how Vinatieri could kick so well for such an extended period, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell replied, "Talent, work ethic and certainly an understanding on how to take care of his body.
"His longevity is based upon the fact that not only is he good, not only is he extremely accurate, but he is always a real professional in terms of how he goes about taking care of himself," Caldwell said. "He is very settled. He is not prone to do anything in extreme, and he functions in the clutch, consistently."
Vinatieri in the post-season converted all three field-goal attempts in a 17-16 loss to the New York Jets in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game, and in what became the final moments of the Colts' season, Vinatieri did what he has done as often as any kicker in NFL history:
He made a clutch kick late in a post-season game.
Trailing 14-13 inside the two-minute warning, the Colts reached the Jets 33-yard line with just under a minute remaining. The Colts were left with a 50-yard field goal to take the lead, and Vinatieri – as he had been for the previous 10 weeks – was perfect with the kick with 53 seconds remaining.
And while the Jets' subsequent game-winning field goal kept it from being a game-winner, it didn't keep his 2010 season from being one that featured a remarkable comeback – and a remarkably consistent, productive season.
"I didn't have any doubts that I could make it back," Vinatieri said. "I knew that the surgeries that I did have were definitely non-career threatening surgeries. It was just a matter of getting back and getting healthy.
"That's the nature of this sport. After seasons are over, a lot of guys have shoulders and knees and stuff that have to be fixed and then you go into next year. I figured if we had the offseason to get ready and prepared and get healthy again it should be a successful season."
Pat McAfee, the Colts' punter in his second NFL season, finished among the top performers in the NFL in touchbacks with 16, and averaged 42 yards on 65 punts.
Blair White, a rookie wide receiver who signed with the Colts as a free agent, averaged eight yards on 10 punt returns, and Colts President Bill Polian said late in the season he showed signs of being able to fill that role in the future. Second-year cornerback Jerraud Powers returned eight punts for a 7.9-yard average.
Justin Tryon, a cornerback acquired in a trade in September, led the Colts with a 21.4-yard average on 14 kickoff returns.