THE SPECIAL TEAMS

In the thirteenth and final installment of a position-by-position look at the Colts' roster, Colts.com examines the special teams. Kicker Adam Vinatieri's return to his status as one of the NFL's best players at his position helped define the season for the area.

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The Thirteenth in an Off-Season Position-by-Position Series on the Colts
INDIANAPOLIS – Adam Vinatieri wasn't the only positive for the Colts' special teams.

Far from it.

But while special teams as a whole again contributed to the success of the Colts, Vinatieri's re-emergence in 2010 as one of the NFL's top players at his position helped define the season for a unit that helped Indianapolis win the AFC South title for a seventh time in eight seasons.

In 2009, Vinatieri missed much of the season with injuries.

A year later, he returned to the level that for more than a decade had made him one of the best clutch kickers in the NFL.

And partly as a result, special teams once again played a key role at in another memorable season for the Colts.

"I didn't have any doubts that I could make it back," Vinatieri said late in the 2010 season.

If Vinatieri had no doubts, it's just as true that others may have.

Injuries the season before were a big reason.

Vinatieri, one of the NFL's most reliable, durable clutch kickers in his first 13 NFL seasons, in 2009 missed 10 games with hip and knee injuries. It was the most games he had missed in a season in his career, and just the second season he had missed a game with an injury.

He converted just seven of nine field goals in 2010, 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 in 2010, he not only was twice named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, he was a major reason the Colts again won the AFC South during a season marked by injuries throughout the roster.

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 regular 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 43-yard, last-play field goal against Tennessee in the season finale was his first-game winner since the 2008 season.

The Colts clinched the AFC South on the final Sunday of the regular 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."

Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell was asked late in the season how Vinatieri could kick so well for such an extended period.

"Talent, work ethic and certainly an understanding of how to take care of his body," he said. "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.

"He is very settled. He is not prone to do anything in extreme and he functions in the clutch, consistently."

Vinatieri, in his 15th season and fifth with the Colts, turned in perhaps the best season of his Colts career, missing 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.

"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."

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. 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.

"I can't say that I feel like a new man, but I definitely feel like a repaired man," Vinatieri said shortly after the regular season.

Pat McAfee, the Colts' punter in his second NFL season, finished in the Top 10 in the NFL in touchbacks with 16, and averaged 42 yards on 65 punts. Justin Tryon, a cornerback acquired in a trade in September, led the Colts with a 21.4-yard average on 14 kickoff returns.

Blair White, a rookie wide receiver who signed with the Colts as a free agent, averaged eight yards on 10 punt returns, and Colts Vice Chairman 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.

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