The woes of kicker Adam Vinatieri this season have put the brass of the Indianapolis Colts in an unenviable position.
In a sport where the acronym NFL is often known as “Not For Long,” it’s not surprising to find many fans of the Indianapolis Colts already calling for Adam Vinatieri’s head. (Or is that his foot?) Either way, the goal is to find a new kicker in the Circle City.
On Sunday, the kicking woes of Vinatieri, one of the most accomplished and decorated kickers in NFL history, continued and cost the Colts yet another game in a season that is barely through the halfway mark. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9, Vinatieri had an extra point blocked by Cameron Heyward in the second quarter and then missed a game-winning field goal from 43 yards out with 1:14 left to play. The final tally was two points (26-24) and the Colts could only wonder “what if?” as they watched Mason Rudolph kneel on the final play of the game.
This wasn’t the only time that Vinatieri had sunk the Colts ship in 2019. Let’s look back at a few other frustrating losses and/or close calls:
Week 1: Loss, L.A. Chargers
This is the worst for Vinatieri because it’s entirely on him. The Chargers went on to win in overtime, but if Vinatieri can even convert one of three kicks he missed (one extra point, two field goals), the Colts put this away. While one of Vinatieri’s misses was from 46 yards out, another miss in the fourth was from only 29 yards away—a chip shot. This is also the game that alerted everyone that the soon-to-be 47-year-old might have hit the wall.
Week 2: Win, @ Tennessee Titans
Shortly after the Colts lost because Vinatieri scored only 4 of a possible 11 points, they were on the ropes again the following week against the rival Titans. In this game, the Colts never once turned to Vinatieri to kick a field goal. Instead they asked him to only stick with extra points and, even then, he converted on one of three. Yes, Adam Vinatieri missed two extra points in a single game—one that ended as a two-point victory for the Colts. Fortunately the Titans could never move past midfield on the final drive. Otherwise a late FG could have sunk Indy to 0-2 early.
Week 8: Win, @ Denver Broncos
If this were the only frustrating game for Adam Vinatieri, no one would even think of a thing of it. After all, the Colts not only won this game on the road against the Broncos, but they did so on the strength of Vinatieri’s kicks. Vinatieri hit three field goals from 45 yards or beyond (including a 51-yarder to win and a 55-yarder in the second quarter) and largely showed why he’s been so effective.
In this same game, however, Vinatieri also missed his only extra point and another 45-yard attempt early in the first. In a game in which the Colts won 15-13, with such little margin for error, Vinatieri’s misses could have made the difference. In addition, when packaged together with the other frustrations over the season so far, significant questions have to be asked.
For the Colts, this means that Vinatieri is partially to blame for two losses and could have been partially responsible for two more. That’s a lot over the course of a full season, but the Colts just played their eighth game on Sunday. That’s simply not acceptable.
Hall of Fame Credentials
Here’s the thing about Vinatieri that we’ve yet to mention: he’s a future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Yes, we’re talking about immortalization into the hallowed halls of Canton, a place where only the best to ever play the game are featured.
When it comes to specialists, the percentages are extremely low in terms of induction. Only one punter has ever made the Hall of Fame (Ray Guy) and only four kickers have ever done so: George Blanda, Lou Groza, Jan Stenerud, and Morten Andersen. However, Blanda was a quarterback and Groza was a six-time All-Pro tackle. In short, it’s hard to make the Hall as a kicker.
Vinatieri will do just that, however. He’s a three-time All-Pro who has game-winning kicks in two Super Bowls. He holds numerous NFL records for most points ever scored and most postseason points ever scored. He’s lifted the Lombardi on four separate occasions and continues to boot long field goals against guys half his age. If you’re figuring out which kicker deserves a spot in the Hall, you’d have an impossible time topping Vinatieri’s resume.
Everyone Hits The Wall
Here’s the unfortunate reality for Vinatieri and the Colts: everyone hits the wall. For years, Vinatieri has been the model of excellence and consistency, but now at the age of 47, the tough questions must be asked as to whether or not he’s done. If the Colts stick with Vinatieri, are they simply inviting in the very demons they’re trying to exorcise? In a league where it’s so difficult to win week after week, can the Colts knowingly roll the dice with a guy who has already cost them so much?
Then again, can the Colts simply let a guy walk who has had a rough half season? Has Vinatieri not earned up enough goodwill to stomach even a few rough outings in a single year? After all, we’re referencing a living legend, a player who kicked his first field goal on September 1, 1996. That’s two weeks before Tupac would be shot, four weeks before Nintendo would release the N64, and five weeks before Fox News launched as a cable network. That game’s quarterback match-up: Dan Marino vs. Drew Bledsoe.
And where would the Colts turn if they want to move on from Vinatieri? All they have to do is look around the NFL to see just how many other teams have struggled to find consistency at the same position. The Colts simply cannot get rid of Vinatieri to solve their issues; they also have to employ an adequate replacement. Is there one out there? And if so, why haven’t the Falcons or Texans or Bears or Panthers or Titans come calling?
Vinatieri is the Colts biggest concern at this point, but has he really hit the wall? Has he not earned the good will of a full season? What other options are there even if cutting him were justified? These are serious questions, and the Colts decision-makers will likely have a hard time answering them.