Without question, the best kicking duo in the National Football League in 2014 resided in Indianapolis. Not only were kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee both named to the Pro Bowl, they both were named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press - just the fourth kicking duo to earn that recognition in the same season since 1975. And the two led a terrific special teams unit for the Colts unit in 2014.
Adam Vinatieri was perfect in 63 of 64 quarters in the regular season, with his only miss coming in the third quarter of the season finale. He finished the regular season 30-for-31, leading the league by hitting 96.8% of his kicks - the highest percentage by any kicker in the NFL since the Colts' Mike Vangerjagt was perfect in 2003. He was 10-for-11 on kicks over 40 yards, and he also hit all 50 of his extra point attempts. He was only 5-of-7 on field goals in the postseason, but one was a long one in New England that the Colts probably shouldn't have had him attempt. Overall, Vinatieri was arguably the NFL's best kicker in 2014 and it was perhaps the finest season for a kicker that will wind up in Canton one day.
Pat McAfee was equally as impressive in 2014, as he had the best season of his career as well. He averaged 46.7 yards per punt and a career-high 42.8 net yards per punt. He had 30 punts pinned inside the 20-yard line, setting a new franchise record (which he also previously held) - and that compared to just three touchbacks on punts. Furthermore, he didn't have a punt blocked. While McAfee was arguably the league's best punter, he also contributed in many more ways than just that. As the Colts' kickoff specialist, he led the NFL in touchbacks and led the NFL with three successful onside kick attempts (one of which he recovered himself). He also continued in his role as the holder for Vinatieri on field goals and extra points, and just for good measure he again showed that he can make a tackle or two when need be.
The two kickers (rightfully) headline the special teams unit for the Colts, but they weren't the only ones contributing. We can't forget about long snapper Matt Overton, who in his third season as the team's long snapper continued to do a solid job there. Not only did he get the ball to McAfee on punts and kicks, he also contributed by making some tackles as well. The coverage units for the Colts were fantastic once again for the Colts this season, and throughout our series we've looked at the many players who contributed to that, so we won't take a ton of time here to go over that, but the success of the unit couldn't have happened without the many players who not only were willing to play on special teams but who excelled there.
The one area of the special teams units in 2014 that wasn't great for the Colts was the return game. Griff Whalen handled return duties in the first ten games, averaging 7.2 yards per punt return and 25.3 yards per kick return, but the Colts clearly could upgrade. They tried to do so by signing Josh Cribbs, and he was the returner for the rest of the year, averaging 6.6 yards per punt return and 32 yards per kick return. Cribbs absolutely provided much more of a spark and, unlike with Whalen, seemed sure to take back a kick or punt at some point. But he ran into some problems - notably his lack of calling for a fair catch - and that resulted in some fans calling for the sure-handed and safe Whalen instead toward the end of the year.
Overall, the part of the game that often gets forgotten was a huge strength to the Colts in 2014 and was hard to ignore. Vinatieri and McAfee were fantastic and Overton and the coverage unit did a great job as well. The Colts had the best kicking duo in the league in 2014, but the unit as a whole was very impressive too.
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2014 season, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews: