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What to Make of Adam Vinatieri’s Recent Struggles

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri shouldered the blame after his team narrowly fell 24-30 in overtime to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday evening:

“The only thing I’ve got to say is the guys played really, really well, and I 100% let them down,” Vinatieri said. “That loss is on me, nobody else. You come here and play against a good team, a team that made the playoffs last year, and the guys play well enough to win if I’d made just one of those (two) kicks. 100% on me. I let the fellas down, for sure.”

The Colts captain had one of the worst performances of his illustrious career, missing two field goals (one of 46 yards, and another of 29 yards)—as well as an extra point attempt.

Those misses proved to be critical. Had the Colts had just any of those 7 points, the team could’ve won the game in regulation outright.

It’s compounded by the fact that Vinatieri did not exactly end the 2018 season on a good note, as he missed a 23-yard field goal in last year’s Divisional Round loss against the Kansas City Chiefs—in addition to an extra point.

There’s no question that Vinatieri is the greatest kicker of all-time.

He’s a 4x Super Bowl Champion (including several game-winning kicks), 3x First-Team All-Pro, 3x Pro Bowler, and holds the league career records for most field goals made and most points in NFL history respectively.

Not to mention, he also made 44 straight field goals during one point of his Colts tenure.

However, he’s also playing at a very advanced football age of 46 years old, and while he’s aged like a fine wine up until this point, it’s fair to question: if it ever goes for Vinatieri, could it just happen all at once?

To his credit, Vinatieri made 23 of 27 field goals (85.2%) and 44 of 47 extra points (93.6%) last season—having battled through a groin injury.

He may not have ‘best kicker in the game’ status—a title that the Ravens’ Justin Tucker or Rams’ Greg Zurlein arguably now hold, but up until recently, Vinatieri was still widely considered one of the better kickers in the game.

Even now, there’s still probably very few kickers anyone would take ahead of him for making a crucial field goal when the game matters most.

Colts head coach Frank Reich still has complete confidence in his veteran kicker:

“Obviously, Adam didn’t have his best day. But I just keep putting into context, this guy is an elite, elite player. Not just was. I see it every day in practice that he kicks. I see him in pregame.”

“No concerns that there’s any deteriorating of anything physically and certainly not mentally. This guy is the toughest mental athlete that I’ve ever been around. So no worries.’’

It’s true too that the Colts from purely a performance standpoint could’ve potentially upgraded on Vinatieri.

For instance, 28 year old Pro Bowler Jason Myers was a free agent this past offseason but signed a 4-year, $15.45 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks.

However, the Colts felt Vinatieri was still kicking at a high level, and his veteran leadership in a young locker room could not be understated—as the team extended him for another season.

Nevertheless, father time remains undefeated and could he finally be getting to Vinatieri’s golden kicking shoe after 24 seasons of otherwise futile attempts?

Right now, it’s too early to panic and declare it: the end.

That being said, there’s a reason that there aren’t more 46 year olds playing in the NFL. It’s a young man’s game, and any sign of slippage—albeit even over a limited two game sample size, is presumably a bigger cause for concern for Vinatieri than his younger kicking peers.

If I were a betting man, I’d say Vinatieri bounces back—maybe as soon as next week.

His track record of success points to that.

However, this should be fair warning that the Colts need to start thinking about finding his long-term successor sooner rather than later because great players—even those as great for as long as Vinatieri—simply can’t play forever.