INDIANAPOLIS (AP)Adam Vinatieri fielded question after question Thursday.
No, he’s not worried about his job.
No, he hasn’t lost confidence.
No, he won’t dwell on what’s gone wrong this season.
Instead, the Indianapolis Colts’ struggling 46-year-old kicker continues to move forward, fully convinced he will find a solution to possibly the worst funk of his 24-season career.
”Obviously, we’re all our biggest critics and anytime it’s not perfect, you want to make it perfect,” he said, ”I don’t worry about the decisions that are being made. I can’t control them. There are injuries and things that happen, and as players we can only worry about being the best we can.”
It’s an unusual spot for the league’s career scoring leader.
Vinatieri has long been considered the best clutch kicker in NFL history, largely because of two Super Bowl-winning kicks and two more in the ”Tuck Rule Game” to help the New England Patriots win their first title. In all, he’s made 29 game-winners, has participated in a league-record 220 regular-season victories.
Through the years, few players at any position have been as consistent or as successful as the four-time Super Bowl champion.
But the past 12 games have been atypical.
Since missing an extra point in last season’s regular-season finale at Tennessee, Vinatieri has missed seven more extra points and six field goals.
Last Sunday, he missed his sixth extra point – doubling his previous single-season high – and costing the Colts (5-4) a chance to force overtime with a short field goal in the final minute. The previous week, he badly shanked the go-ahead 43-yard field goal wide left at Pittsburgh with less than a minute to play.
He’s missed at least one kick in all four losses and, some blame Vinatieri for at least three of those defeats.
Inside the locker room, teammates and coaches universally disagree.
”When I sit across from this guy – I have said this before – I feel like this is one of the greatest players of all-time but more importantly one of the great leaders of all-time,” coach Frank Reich said Wednesday. ”This guy is a unique guy not just as a kicker but as a personality and as a presence in the room. Thirdly, his mental toughness – I really, really value that and I just really believe in him. I believe whatever we’re going through is just a phase.”
Whether it’s mechanics, an injury or the laces on the wrong side of the ball that have been the root of the problem, the Colts are doing their due diligence.
They brought in a handful of kickers for tryouts Tuesday and once again, Reich and general manager Chris Ballard decided to keep Vinatieri. Reich and Vinatieri have spoken this week, too, though neither explained what was discussed.
As for the speculation about retirement, which became a question earlier this season, Vinatieri again acknowledged it’s not up for debate.
”We’re in the middle of the season and we’re trying to win games,” he said. ”My commitment to the team is as high as it’s ever been.”
Vinatieri’s value doesn’t lie solely on the field.
Reich treasures Vinatieri’s experienced voice in a locker room filled with many young players, and teammates seek out Vinatieiri’s advice on everything from football to finances to family matters.
They want him around and believe he will kick his way out of this slump.
”I obviously have trusted him since I was a rookie, and it will never change,” center Ryan Kelly said Sunday.
Now, it’s up to Vinatieri to reward all those who continue to support him.
”You check out film, you see what you are doing right or wrong and it’s just the little things,” Vinatieri said. ”At this point you’re not recreating anything, you’re just trying to tweak little things here and there.”
Notes: Quarterback Jacoby Brissett was a full participant for the second straight day, putting him on track to start Sunday. Brissett left the Pittsburgh game two weeks ago with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee and was replaced in the starting lineup by Brian Hoyer last week. Receiver T.Y. Hilton again did not practice because of an injured calf. All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard (abdomen) also was a full participant Thursday after doing limited work Wednesday.
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