INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The heels are dug in, seemingly deeper than ever.
In spite of the doubt, concern, consternation, reservation or anxiety – you pick the word, all are appropriate – swirling around a suddenly and uncharacteristically unreliable kicker, Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts aren’t budging.
Even though Chris Ballard held another set of workouts with four free-agent kickers Tuesday, the franchise didn’t sign one.
“Adam’s our kicker,’’ Reich said Wednesday. “Chris and I have talked about this situation.’’
The situation? Vinatieri, the NFL’s career scoring leader and a career 83.9 percent kicker, has missed a league-high 11 kicks in nine games – five field goals, six PATs. The most recent was a PAT in Sunday’s 16-12 loss to Miami that impacted how the Colts approached their final drive. Vinatieri’s career-high in misses: 12, in 1996 when he was a rookie with the New England Patriots.
The latest errant kick spurred Ballard to hold a second audition – Greg Joseph, Elliott Fry, Nick Rose, Mike Nugent – to determine if a better option resided outside the building.
For Ballard to not explore his options, noted Reich, “would be malpractice.’’
But they’re sticking with Adam Vinatieri.
“We believe in doubling-down on our guys,’’ Reich said. “Sure, you take a look, but when you take a look you see what we’ve got is . . . we believe Adam is the answer.’’
At the risk of reading too much into Reich’s comments, it’s not a stretch to assume the Colts have more confidence in Vinatieri, 46 and nearing the end of what most certainly is a Hall of Fame career, working through what his coach described as “a phase’’ than bringing in someone off the street who’s on the street for a reason.
Reich stood firm in his support of Vinatieri, even after Vinatieri missed five kicks in the first two games. He mentioned players who possess Vinatieri’s decorated background – 24 seasons, a record 2,656 points in 362 regular-season games, 29 game-winning kicks, five Super Bowl appearances, four world championships three Super Bowl championships – command more “latitude’’ when they encounter struggles.
Reich recalled something Marv Levy, the long-time Buffalo Bills coach and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, always mentioned.
You treat everyone fairly but not everyone the same.
“I think it would make sense and everyone would understand with 24 years of what he’s done, that there’s a sense where we believe in him,’’ Reich said. “So if you’re going through a rough patch, we’re going to be a little bit more patient than normal.’’
But, it was mentioned, your kicker’s struggles have had a negative impact on the bottom line, which is a 5-4 record and two-game losing streak heading into Sunday’s meeting with Jacksonville. Three missed kicks in the season-opening overtime loss at the Los Angeles Chargers. The errant 43-yard attempt with a minute to play at Pittsburgh that allowed the Steelers to escape with a 26-24 victory; the “laces’’ kick. The missed PAT against the Dolphins.
The Colts have outscored their opposition 194-193 and opened the season with all nine games being decided by 7 points or fewer, the second-longest streak in league history. They could have used some of the 21 points the kicking game has left on the field.
“As we know,’’ Reich said, “you lose close games (and) there’s 20 plays that could have determined the outcome of games. Literally 20 plays. And they all make you sick. Every one of them makes you sick.
“That one (a kick) gets more attention, I get it. I understand some of the reason that one gets more attention. That’s fair. But knowing from the position I sit and knowing all of the factors that go into the loss, it makes easier for me to have perspective on it and say this is the way we’re going as Chris and I sit down and talk about it.’’
Vinatieri wasn’t made available for comment Wednesday. His normal chat with the media is Thursday.
Reich said he’s talked with his kicker, and “it was a good conversation, a great conversation actually.
“I’ve said this before: This is one of the greatest players of all time. But more importantly, one of the great leaders of all time. This guy is a unique guy, not just as a kicker but as a personality and as a presence in the room.
“Then thirdly, his mental toughness. I really, really value that. I just really believe in him. I believe whatever we’re going through is just a phase and he’s going to help us win games and get to where we want to go.’’
There has been no grumbling in the locker room.
“He’s the greatest kicker of all time,’’ left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “He’s that for a reason. He’s been able to do it this long.
“I know nothing about kicking. But just knowing Adam, I would expect him to come out of it.’’
Reich admitted the “temperature’’ of the locker room is a critical element to a team’s success.
“I have every reason to believe the temperature in the locker room is ‘Adam is our guy,’’’ he said. “Everybody has the utmost confidence in Adam. Zero indication of anything but that.’’
Vinatieri dealt with an injury to his left knee that forced him to miss time during training camp and lingered into the start of the season. It’s believed it’s still an issue to some degree even though he’s never been listed on the weekly injury report.
“I’m healthy enough to be out there,’’ Vinatieri said after the Miami game.
“Every player has ailments,’’ Reich said. “I’m sure when you’re 46, you have a few more ailments. I’m not the kind of coach who asks a player every day, ‘Hey, how’s that knee feeling?’ I take the other approach. I figure they’re good. Trainers are getting them right. They’re getting themselves right.
“I don’t even want to think about it. Just get out there and do your job.’’
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