In 13th NFL Season, Vinatieri Kicking Deep and Feeling Good
INDIANAPOLIS – There's really no mystery.
And to hear Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri tell it – and certainly to hear his holder tell it – there's really not that much difference between Vinatieri this season and the first two seasons he spent in Indianapolis.
Yes, he has had two game-winning field goals in the last four games.
And yes, each has been over 50 yards.
But to Vinatieri, that's not particularly notable. Really, it should be the norm.
Certainly, it's what he expects from himself.
"I just feel healthy," Vinatieri said as the Colts (7-4) prepared to play the Cleveland Browns (4-7) at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday at 1 p.m. "That's the major difference. I don't think I'm stronger. It's just we're healthier than we've been the last couple of years.
"These guys," he added, nodding to punter Hunter Smith – Vinatieri's holder – and long snapper Justin Snow, "are doing a good job."
The trio as a whole has had remarkable success this season, as has a special teams unit that Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said may be playing as well as a group as it has in any of his seven seasons with the team.
Dungy said the Colts' kickoff coverage is improved over recent seasons, and in the last two games, rookie running back Chad Simpson has averaged more than 25.0 yards on nine kickoff returns. Smith, a 10-year veteran, is averaging 44.7 yards per punt – seventh in the AFC with 16 inside the 20.
But notable, too, in recent weeks has been Vinatieri, not just because he has converted two game-winning field goals, but because of the distance from which he converted them.
Vinatieri, who signed with the Colts as an unrestricted free agent in the 2006 offseason, was one of the NFL's all-time clutch kickers during a decade with the New England Patriots, and in his first two seasons with the Colts he had several clutch kicks.
In his first season with the Colts, his 37-yarder with :02 remaining beat the Denver Broncos, 34-31, in Denver, and his five field goals – including one from 50 yards – accounted for all of the Colts' points in a 15-6 AFC Divisional Playoff victory at Baltimore.
Last season, his 24-yard field goal with :03 remaining beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 13-10, coming on a day on which Vinatieri missed from 49 and 38 yards.
Vinatieri, after making 25 of 28 field goals in his first season with the Colts – including nine of 10 from 40-to-49 yards, made 23 of 29 last season and his longest successful field goal was from 39 yards. On kickoffs last season, Vinatieri registered eight touchbacks.
Vinatieri this season not only has converted 14 of 17 field goals, he has eight touchbacks, which is on pace to surpass his career high of 10 set in 2005 with New England and 2006 with the Colts.
As notably, he has converted 3 of 5 field goals from 40-49 yards, and in two of the Colts' biggest, most-memorable victories of the season, Vinatieri has provided the game-winning field goals from distances from which he hadn't been successful in the regular season in a half decade.
On Sunday, November 2, Vinatieri – playing against his former team – converted a 52-yard field goal with 8:05 remaining to give the Colts an 18-15 victory over New England, the first victory in the Colts' ongoing four-game winning streak.
This past Sunday, Vinatieri – who missed a 29-yard field goal in the final two minutes of a 23-21 loss to San Diego last November – converted a 51-yarder against the same team in the same stadium toward the same end of the field. This one came with no time remaining and gave the Colts a 23-20 victory.
The difference from one year to the next? Colts punter Hunter Smith, Vinatieri's holder, said it's simple, and in fact, Smith said there's no real difference at all.
"He's no different this year than he has ever been," Smith said. "Adam's a great kicker. He's just getting a chance to do it and showcase it. There's nothing different about him other than just who he is. He's just a great kicker.
"Everybody's on this, 'What's-so-different-about-Adam? kick. It's really nothing. Adam Vinatieri can make a 70-yard field goal. No lie."
Said Vinatieri, "Every opunity you get, whether it's an extra point or a long field goal at the end, you have to be happy about that. We're just happy they're going through and we're winning games."
The Colts will seek their fifth consecutive victory on Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium, a venue on the shores of Lake Eric that many observers consider difficult for kickers.
"It can be," Vinatieri said. "You're right there on the water, and it depends on what the day's like. Being it's the end of November, it should probably be chilly and maybe windy, so you don't know what to expect, so it definitely can be a harder place to kick."
The forecast Sunday calls for snow showers, and temperatures with a high of 36 degrees, according to weather.com. As Vinatieri prepared this week for the Colts' coldest game of the season, he was asked if, perhaps he was hot. He shrugged.
"I don't know if there's such a thing," Vinatieri said. "We've been winning games. That's the only thing that really matters, and now we're starting to get a few more attempts. At the beginning of the year, there would be games where we wouldn't get any or get one.
"Now, all of a sudden, we're scoring a little more and getting more opportunities out there. I don't know if it's a hot thing. It's just being out there more often."