'YOU NEVER TAKE THEM LIGHTLY'Synonymous with knocking through pressure field goals when it matters, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri delivered the 23rd game-winner of his career in the closing seconds of Indianapolis' 23-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
"You know, he has answered the bell so many times in his career," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's a clutch guy, does a tremendous job and we certainly don't take it for granted."
Vinatieri echoed Caldwell's comments.
"They are never the same and you never take them lightly," Vinatieri said. "Just happy to have the opportunity again to help our team win that game.
"There is no such thing as an easy game-winner at any distance, but the way it came out, kind of running the time off the clock, it worked out pretty good. It felt great to be able to help the team out like that. It is a good feeling after you look up and it is going through the middle."
But what does one of the NFL's most clutch kickers think about before heading out to the field with the game and playoff seeding on the line?
"You just try to think about the things that you can control," Vinatieri said. "The implications of what the kick means and all that stuff, that doesn't move the ball right or left. You just go out there and concentrate on my job.
"I have to give props to the 10 guys up in front of me. They have done a great job all year blocking for me and Justin (Snow) and Pat (McAfee) have done a great job of making my job easier, too. I have all the confidence in the world in them. Then I know it just comes down to me putting the ball on-line. Forty-three, inside, with no conditions, just put it on-line and it will go. I try to get rid of all the other external things that don't make any difference and just concentrate on the kick itself."
At home, in his career with the Colts, Vinatieri has hit 93.1 percent of his field goals, hitting 54-of-58.
With 11 points on Sunday, Vinatieri became the seventh kicker in NFL history to score 500-plus-points with two different teams.
'WE WILL TRY TO KEEP IT GOING'Indianapolis' 4-0 finish to the NFL season may be attributed to a variety of factors, but an undeniable component in that equation is the Colts' run defense playing on par with the best in the league.
"(The) defense did a great job of stuffing the run," Caldwell said. "I think they had only (51) yards, far under their normal totals. That's a tribute to the guys on defense. They did a nice job of putting it all together and did a tremendous job of keeping one of the best running backs in the league under control."
Over the last three games, Indianapolis' rushing defense is yielding 66 yards per contest.
"It's huge because we tackled a lot better and we just jelled as a defense, and we will try to keep it going," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said about holding three potent rushing attacks in check.
Against three of the NFL's premier running backs-Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Oakland's Darren McFadden and Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew- the Colts have allowed just one 100-plus-yard rushing performance, and that came four weeks ago when Johnson led Tennessee with 111 yards.
Sunday, Johnson rushed 20 times for 39 yards as the rest of the Titans gained 12 yards on the ground.
"Championship teams have got to stop the run and Coach (Larry) Coyer, Coach Caldwell and the defense has taken heart to that," Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. "If we can keep doing this throughout the playoffs, I think we can go a long way."
'IT STARTS WITH THE LINE'While generally being considered a quick-strike offense, the Colts are stringing together some lengthy drives this season.
Indianapolis leads the NFL in 10-plus-play drives with 41, including 10-plus-play touchdown drives.
In the first half against the Titans, the Colts had only three possessions, but they made the most of each, as all were 10 plays or more.
Vinatieri converted field goals of 48 and 44 yards on the first two drives before Peyton Manning found Reggie Wayne for a seven-yard score with less than 2:00 remaining in the half.
Draining an opposing defense's energy early pays dividends late in a game according to Colts offensive lineman Charlie Johnson.
"We are able to wear a defense down, especially when we are sustaining and we are not switching personnel and we are keeping the defense on the field," Johnson said. "Come the third and fourth quarters, it's almost like they get tired and you can almost kind of break them."
Colts running back Joseph Addai attributed the success of Indianapolis' ability to perpetuate long drives to the offensive line.
"It starts with the line," Addai said. "When we can wear those guys down it gives us a little momentum."
HORSE HIGHLIGHTS-With its win, Indianapolis tied Dallas' (1975-83) NFL mark of nine consecutive post-season berths and gave the Colts their ninth consecutive season with 10 or more wins.
-Indianapolis is the only NFL team to have playoff berths and double-digit wins each season since 2002.
-Peyton Manning's 208 consecutive starts surpassed Gene Upshaw (207) for the most consecutive starts to open a career.
-Manning passed Brett Favre for most 10 -win seasons since the Super Bowl era with 11.
-Manning surpassed his own franchise record of 4,557 passing yards in 2004 with 4,700 this season. It marked the 10th-highest total in NFL history.
-Manning set the NFL record for most completions in a season with 450, surpassing Drew Brees' 448 this season.
-Manning recorded his 45th career fourth-quarter or overtime game-winning drive.
-Reggie Wayne set a career high with 111 catches this season, surpassing his 104-catch season in 2004.
-Wayne recorded his 69th career touchdown reception to surpass Raymond Berry for second-most in franchise history.
-Dwight Freeney recorded the seventh 10-plus-sack season of his career.
-Indianapolis rushed for more than 100 yards for the third consecutive game and the sixth time this season.
-Defensive back Jacob Lacey led the Colts with 10 tackles.
-Indianapolis' defense held Tennessee to six-of-15 conversions on third-down attempts.