The 2015 season for the Indianapolis Colts was one filled with plenty of uncertainty and surprise. Players who were expected to star - like Andrew Luck - struggled, and the team finished with a very disappointing 8-8 record. There wasn't much that the team could count on in 2015, but the exception was the kicking duo of Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee.
The two were once again fantastic for the Colts this year. In 2014, they both made the Pro Bowl and both were named first-team All-Pros, designating them as the best at their craft in the entire league. Though neither of them were recognized this year, their play didn't drop off and they instead played an even more important role in keeping the Colts competitive.
Vinatieri had a rough start to the season, missing his first two field goals - and prompting some questions from a minority on whether the kicker was washed up. After those first two weeks, however, the veteran responded by hitting 25 field goals in a row to end the season, finishing 25 of 27 (92.6%). Furthermore, he converted 12 of 13 field goal attempts of 40 or more yards, while he hit two game-winning kicks (one in overtime against the Jaguars and another in the final minute of regulation against the Falcons). Against the Panthers, Vinatieri hit a kick to send the game to overtime as time expired, and then he put the Colts up in overtime with another field goal before the Panthers wound up winning. Additionally, for Vinatieri's performance in the month of November, he was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month. He also reached several significant career milestones, as in the 2015 season he became the Colts' all-time leading scorer, the first player to ever score 1,000 points with two different franchises (Colts and Patriots) and just the third to make 500 career field goals (joining Morten Anderson and Gary Anderson), while he was a unanimous selection to the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team.
Like Vinatieri, McAfee was again tremendous in 2015. He punted 85 times (the second-highest total of his career, trailing the 2011 season by only three punts) and averaged 47.7 yards per punt (second in the NFL) and 41.7 net yards per punt (fifth in the league). He didn't have a punt blocked and pinned 28 punts inside the 20 yard line with six touchbacks. Furthermore, he added an 18-yard fake punt run for a first down and recorded a tackle, and in week three he was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. McAfee continued to serve as the holder for Vinatieri as well, and he also continued to excel as a kickoff specialist. In fact, the Colts' touchback percentage of 87.0% this year was the best in the NFL since 1970, while the 156 total kick return yards allowed by the team in 2015 was the fewest in a single-season in NFL history. In other words, McAfee was as tremendous as ever in 2015.
While neither Adam Vinatieri nor Pat McAfee received as much attention for their play in 2015 as they did in 2014, they were arguably even more vital to the team this season than in past years. With a backup quarterback playing nine games and the offense struggling to do much for large stretches, the pressure shifted to McAfee and Vinatieri. When the Colts were good enough to not turn it over, McAfee was often counted on to punt them out of bad situations, while on the drives the Colts did manage to mount, Vinatieri was often counted on to get them points. You could make a strong case that Pat McAfee was the Colts' MVP this year, and Adam Vinatieri wouldn't be too far behind in the voting either.
Matt Overton continued to do a good job as the team's long snapper, as the leading trio of the fourth down army continued to play at a high level. The problem with the special teams unit in 2015, however, were the coverage units. The Colts allowed three punt returns for scores and too many big plays in the punt return game, often due to a breakdown in coverage. The Colts attempted to fix this later in the season by making moves geared toward special teams, but the coverage units brought down the entire special teams unit in 2015 as the biggest weakness.
The coverage units were clearly the worst when it came to special teams in 2015, and that's because the Colts actually found a promising returner in Quan Bray. Griff Whalen was the Colts' return man, but he was back there for one reason: reliability. He didn't give the team a spark, but he didn't make mistakes either. After several weeks, however, he muffed a few kicks and he was quickly replaced with Quan Bray, the standout training camp receiver who was called up from the practice squad. Playing in nine games, Bray returned 21 punts - averaging 7.9 yards per return with a long of 33 - and returned 21 kickoffs - averaging 27.1 yards per return with a long of 60. He provided an immediate spark and made several very good plays, also adding the threat of breaking one for a score. He's a guy that likely will be back next year and could be an exciting one to continue to watch.
Overall, the Colts' special teams were once again a strength in 2015. Their coverage was lacking at times, but the kicking duo of Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee was fantastic once again and the team may have found a good return option in Quan Bray. Vinatieri will be a free agent this offseason, but it would be a shock if he's not back in Indianapolis next year - which is encouraging news for Colts fans, because the special teams figure to once again be a strength for the team in 2016.
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2015 season, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews: