Colts won’t use Vinatieri in playoffs
Jim Caldwell is kicking conventional wisdom to the curb.
The Colts coach plans to use Matt Stover during the playoffs instead of four-time Super Bowl winner Adam Vinatieri, regarded as the best clutch kicker in NFL history.
Caldwell explained his decision Thursday, saying Vinatieri had not fully recovered from midseason surgery on his kicking knee, and that Stover had done a "great job" since joining the team in October.
"I think the concern was health issues or whatever," Vinatieri said. "I guess it makes sense. I didn’t necessarily care for the decision. Obviously, all of us want to be on the field as much as we can, but I understand the concerns."
Vinatieri still could get his chance.
The Colts (14-2) will not put the 36-year-old South Dakota native on injured reserve and intend to carry both kickers on the active roster, meaning Vinatieri may yet kick if he can get healthy.
Few teams have the luxury of choosing between two of the league’s most productive and experienced kickers.
Vinatieri won three Super Bowls with New England, including two on game-winning kicks, before joining the Colts in 2006 and winning another title that year. He may be best remembered, though, for making the tying and winning kicks on a snowy New England night to beat Oakland in the playoffs in January 2002, the "Tuck Rule Game."
Stover won a Super Bowl ring with Baltimore in 2000 and ranks No. 4 among kickers with 2,004 career points. Vinatieri has 1,528 points, and both he and Stover rank among the top 15 all-time in field goals made.
But this decision came down to one factor: Health.
Vinatieri has played in only one game since Oct. 11, against the Jets on Dec. 27. His first extra-point attempt against New York was blocked, though Vinatieri later made a 22-yard field goal — barely longer than an extra point.
"He (Stover) has done a great job for us. He’s fit in extremely well, he’s very mature and he’s done an exceptional job," Caldwell said. "They are two great ones. You know it’s a very unique situation, but that’s kind of the way it is right now. But we feel good about our options."
Stover, who handled every major kick for the Baltimore Ravens franchise from 1991 to 2008, was let go by the team in the offseason. He signed with Indy on Oct. 14, the day Caldwell announced Vinatieri would miss four to eight weeks after having arthroscopic surgery to remove cartilage in his right knee.
Since then Stover has been nearly flawless. He’s made 33 consecutive extra points and 9 of 11 field goal attempts — one miss was from 52 yards — and he doesn’t even have to worry about kickoff duties, which are handled by rookie Pat McAfee.
"My mindset, since I was signed, was to kick this team all the way to the Super Bowl and through it," Stover said. "I’m not here to replace Adam. I’m here to help this team get to the Super Bowl and, unfortunately, Adam was injured during that time, which gave me that opportunity. This is for this year, this is to help this team win the Super Bowl and at this point, I feel confident in my abilities to be able to do that."
Stover said the two are old hunting buddies, a relationship that could ease any potential strains while the Colts embark on another Super Bowl quest.
And both have been around long enough to understand Indy doesn’t need any distractions heading into next weekend’s divisional round game against Cincinnati, the Jets or Baltimore. The Colts earned a first-round bye and the AFC’s top seed by winning their first 14 games this season.
"I don’t make any of those decisions about who is activated and who is not, but I’m going to keep preparing like I’m going to be the guy who goes out on the field," Vinatieri said. "If it happens that way, great, and if it doesn’t, I’m going to be a good cheerleader."
For now, the job belongs to Stover.
"Sometimes you don’t need a kicker, but sometimes you do and if it comes down to that, I’ll be ready," Stover said.