Teammates, Dungy Never Doubted Vinatieri in Final Seconds
SAN DIEGO, Cal. – Adam Vinatieri knew immediately.
And an instant after the football left his foot, well before it sailed through the Qualcomm Stadium uprights to give the Colts a dramatic, 23-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers Sunday night, Indianapolis' 13-year veteran kicker's fist was in the air.
Straight and true.
A game-winning kick.
"When it left my foot, I felt like I hit real well," Vinatieri said shortly after his 51-yard field goal with no time remaining – his second 50-plus-yard, game-winner in the last four games.
"You always have to look up to confirm where it's going, but it looked like it was pretty much down the middle. At that point, you start celebrating. It was pretty great."
Vinatieri, who twice kicked game-winning field goals for New England in the waning seconds of Super Bowls, is widely considered one of the all-time clutch kickers in NFL history. But last year, he missed a 29-yard field goal in the final two minutes of a 23-21 loss at San Diego.
"When Adam missed out here last year, I felt like if we had a chance to kick a field goal it didn't really matter where it was from, I thought he would make it," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "It was one of those things. You just felt good about it. Adam's a pro.
"I think he wanted to come out here and have a game-winner. It worked out well for him."
Vinatieri, in his third season with the Colts, kicked a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter of an 18-15 victory over his former team, the New England Patriots, earlier this month.
Vinatieri said he didn't think about last year when preparing to kick Sunday night's game-winner.
Not that the fans at Qualcomm didn't attempt some not-so-subtle reminders.
"I heard a few people chirping to me pre-game warm-up about it," Vinatieri said. "But once you get out there it's a new day, new year – new everything, new game. You go out there and refocus in.
"It was a good day."
Vinatieri's teammates said afterward last year's miss wasn't on their minds.
Not even close.
"Total confidence," Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. "He's done it in big games, whenever."
Bethea said that confidence stayed strong even when the Chargers called timeout to "ice" Vinatieri shortly before the kick.
"You can't ice the iceman," Bethea said.
Asked what he thought when he saw Vinatieri running onto the field to attempt the field goal, Colts defensive end Robert Mathis replied, "W."
"It's a 'W,''' Mathis said, smiling. "He's good."
Not that Sunday night's game-winner will completely erase the memory of last season's miss. Vinatieri said a kicker's memory doesn't work that way.
"To be honest, the ones where you don't help team usually stick with you longer than the makes," Vinatieri said. "The good thing is when you play a long time, you put that one behind you – make, miss or indifferent. You just keep moving forward."
And if Vinatieri's fist went into the air perhaps a little too early, experience – something Vinatieri has a lot of in such situations – told him in this case, that would be OK.
"When I saw it going down the middle, I figured it had plenty of distance," Vinatieri said. "It was maybe a little premature celebration, but I was pretty guaranteed it was going through. . . .
"Sometimes you can just tell when it leaves your foot whether it's going to be good or not. We had a pretty good feeling."
And Vinatieri said what was most imant about the kick wasn't the distance, or what happened last season, or even the time of the game. It was the circumstances, with the Colts now having won four consecutive games and maintaining the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoff chase.
"It was a big win," Vinatieri said. "I don't know how many games it takes to feel like you're on a streak, but winning four games now and putting us back in a good position – obviously there's a ton of football to be played. But beating a good team tonight, and putting them another game back behind us – it helps us keep moving forward.
"There's nothing guaranteed. There's not anything solidified, but winning another game and stringing them together is a great feeling."