NFL Nation: Adam Vinatieri

Way back in 1996, when Adam Vinatieri entered the NFL, a practice session for kickers was a relative breeze. It included an attempt or two in the 20-yard range, a few in the 30's and 40's and -- if the coach was feeling frisky -- a moonshot from beyond 50 yards.

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Vinatieri
This summer, on a day I visited with Vinatieri at the Indianapolis Colts' training camp, things were a bit different.

"If I were to go back and look at all of my camp distances," Vinatieri said, "I bet I'd find only a couple that were in the 30's. Right away, we jump back to 40-plus and work back. If I have seven kicks, three of them will be from beyond 50. We'll have one from 50, one from 55 and yesterday I hit one from 60. It was 50, 55 and 60 versus the days of hitting 30-yarders. You have to be able to hit that long ball to play in this league now."

Football has transformed during Vinatieri's 18-year career, and not just in the explosive rise of passing offense. There has also been a dramatic rise in kicking accuracy, especially from long distances. As recently as five years ago, 50-plus yard attempts were a 50-50 proposition. In 2013, NFL place-kickers converted 67.1 percent of them, and the rate has risen to nearly 72 percent during the first quarter of 2014.

Nugent
In other words, place-kickers are converting 50-yard attempts at a higher rate than quarterbacks are completing passes.

"Even 10 years ago, a 50-yarder was a very big deal," Cincinnati Bengals place-kicker Mike Nugent said. "A guy would hit a 50-yarder and it was like, 'Oh my gosh, that's a big thing.' ... But now, you just expect it. The 50-yarder isn't, 'I hope it goes in.' It's more expected now."

Go back to 1996, when Vinatieri was beginning his career with the New England Patriots. That season, the 30-team NFL attempted a combined 58 field goals from 50 yards or beyond. This season, the league's 32 teams have set a pace to nearly triple that figure; through four weeks, they have already attempted 32 from at least 50 yards.



OK, so we know the situation. Place-kickers are far more accurate, and coaches much more confident, from distances once considered bleak. Now, let's start the process of understanding why.

As part of my summer camp tour, I quizzed kickers about how their profession got so good so fast. Why is the NFL scrambling for ways to make it more difficult, via longer extra points? And why did a Super Bowl-winning coach get rewarded for playing for a 61-yard game-winning field goal last season? (See Harbaugh, John, Week 15 of the Baltimore Ravens' 2013 season.)

McAfee
Theories revolved around three areas: Youth emphasis, honed techniques and physical growth. We're not going to author the definitive study on this evolution today, but let's at least take a quick sample of each idea:
  • Colts punter/kicker Pat McAfee: "A big thing now is that you get a chance to go to the kicking camps that happen across the globe. Parents are sending their kids to them because there's less danger [kicking rather than playing another position] and there's a chance of getting a scholarship. So you have people trying to get into these positions. Whenever you have kids starting earlier, working harder, younger, you're going to get better."
  • Crosby
    Green Bay Packers place-kicker Mason Crosby: "It comes down to specialized training. When I first started kicking, it was just kind of line up, get in a spot you feel comfortable in, maybe watch what some of the guys did in the NFL or college. But now it's like golf. Everyone is a little bit different and you have to kind of own that, but guys are realizing that they need to repeat the same thing every time. Take your steps back, your steps over and be in a position that is repeatable every time. Every time you get in your set up, you must feel comfortable that you're going to execute my kick."
  • Nugent: "It's funny. I could attribute it to the same thing we talk about with other positions. What's a nose tackle today compared to a nose tackle in, say, the '80s? He's bigger and stronger. That's across the board."

Where will this take the game? Can the 60-plus-yard kick, attempted four times last season and eight in 2012, become the new 50? Rules returning the ball to opponents at the spot of a kick following a miss might discourage coaches, but accuracy over time could shift convention.

"Everything is moving back," McAfee said. "It used to be that a 40-yarder was a long one. Now, if you're missing 40-yarders, you're not even in the Arena League. So with more practice and more technique perfection, it could happen."

At this rate, of course, we'll be asking in a few years if 70 could be the new 60.
Last weekend, the Detroit Lions provided a template for the way a longer extra point can impact an NFL game. They misfired on their first attempt during a preseason game at the Oakland Raiders -- and wound up losing the game by one point, 27-26.

[+] EnlargeShayne Graham
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsShayne Graham misses an extra point in the Saints' preseason game against the Rams on Aug. 8.
A similar fate befell the Carolina Panthers earlier this month after punter Jordan Gay, filling in for the injured Graham Gano, missed his first attempt. Coach Ron Rivera felt compelled to go for two points after the Panthers' next two touchdowns. Both attempts failed, and the Panthers lost 20-18 to the Buffalo Bills. Extra points after all three touchdowns, of course, would have added up to a 21-20 victory.

The NFL's now-concluded preseason experiment with 33-yard extra points undoubtedly produced visible results. In two weeks, kickers missed more attempts (eight) than they did during the entire 17 weeks of the 2013 regular season (five). Their preseason conversion rate of 94.3 (133-of-141) extrapolates to about 73 misses over a full regular season, based on the number of touchdowns scored in 2013. That's roughly one for every 3.5 games.

Those figures don't provide a full story, however, and it doesn't seem to me that the NFL has found a permanent solution to energizing the extra point. During a recent training camp tour, most kickers and coaches viewed the 33-yard experiment as a starting point in a larger discussion about the skyrocketing accuracy of place-kicking. If the league really wants to heighten the post-touchdown entertainment level, several of them said, it should focus on making the two-point conversion more inviting -- by moving it to the 1-yard line from the 2.

Before getting to those thoughts, let's first deconstruct what happened this summer. It's important to consider several factors that might not apply in the regular season.

First, as the chart shows, kickers with little to no NFL experience accounted for more than half of the misses. It's difficult to make a regular-season judgment when including the performance of roster candidates who might well be waived before Labor Day. When you more limit the conversation to "established" place-kickers, you're down to three misses in two weeks.

Second, it's worth noting that even the initial 94.3 percent figure is higher than the regular-season rate of 33-yard field goals over the past five seasons (91.8). It's reasonable to wonder if place-kicking is improving so rapidly (a story for another day) that a 33-yarder could soon progress into near-automatic range -- rendering moot the original intent of moving it back. (As we discussed this winter, it would probably require a 46-yard extra point to make a long-term impact on the game.)

"Generally speaking in the NFL, you should make that [33-yard] kick," Indianapolis Colts place-kicker Adam Vinatieri said. "My expectation for anyone is that they should make it. So I'm not sure if this is a steppingstone to move it again or what."

Finally, there seemed to some an unnatural and inorganic feel to a rule that calls for one point from a 33-yard kick but three (from a field goal attempt) as short as 19 yards.

"It was really interesting to hear the conversation around the topic and all the different ideas this spring," Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said before the preseason began. "It was the first time in my experience going to those meetings where I felt it was a little bit of a reach. We have to do something, but we're not really sure what the best option is. That's why trying this, the moving it back deal, is going to be interesting. It's the first time I've seen an unorthodox attempt to try to fix something that they feel is wrong. So to me, I think we're seeing the first version of what's ahead of us and they'll continue to get input. They obviously feel the extra point is just a wasted play."

In the end, however, is a play with a 94.3 percent success rate substantially more entertaining than one that is 99.8, as the NFL extra point was in 2013? You can't sell me on that, and for at least some fans it could prove more of an annoyance than anything else. That's why the idea of a shorter two-point conversion seems a more intriguing option.

You might not think there is much difference between a play from the 1- or the 2-yard line, but in NFL terms there is. Since the start of the 2001 season, which is as far back as ESPN Stats & Information records on it go, the conversion rate of two-point plays from the 1-yard line is 65.5 percent. From the 2, it's 46.9 percent. At that rate of success, more coaches probably would choose it over an extra point.

"I think if they go to the 1," McCarthy said, "the two-point conversion [attempts] will go up significantly. … The run opportunity and the pass opportunity are both in play from the 2 and the 1, but running from the 2 is different than running from the 1."

In this scenario, you've taken the post-touchdown success rate from 99.8 to 65.5. The ultimate entertainment goal for this experiment, as Colts punter and occasional place-kicker Pat McAfee said, should be to create a genuine "chance for failure." The NFL could achieve that -- as well as an infusion of more sophisticated and nuanced strategy -- with a shorter two-point conversion. Hopefully, the 33-yard extra point experiment will be the start of a journey to get us there.
Examining the Indianapolis Colts' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
This is the safest position on the roster for the Colts. They plan to always keep a veteran backup if Luck ever goes down with an injury.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

The Colts will have a solid running combination if -- and we’re saying if until proven wrong -- Richardson can bounce back from a poor first season in Indianapolis and Bradshaw and Ballard can stay injury-free. Havili, a fullback, gets the edge over Mario Harvey, who switched from linebacker to fullback during offseason workouts.

RECEIVERS (5)

The final receiver spot will come down to Rogers and Griff Whalen. If the Colts want to play it safe, Whalen is the guy because he’s familiar with Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, but Rogers has the size and speed the team likes. There’s also the possibility of the Colts keeping six receivers.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Allen, who missed all but one game in 2013, and Fleener have the potential to be one of the top tight end duos in the league. Doyle and Saunders are both familiar with the system after backing up Fleener in Allen’s absence last season.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

There are plenty of questions surrounding the offensive line outside of tackles Castonzo and Cherilus. The one thing general manager Ryan Grigson wanted with this group is depth. The Colts have plenty of it.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)

Like the offensive line, the Colts want depth on the defensive line so they can constantly rotate in players, so come the fourth quarter they still have fresh legs to get after the opponent. Jones was the key offseason acquisition for the Colts. Chapman showed flashes last season; now he needs to do it every snap that he’s on the field.

LINEBACKERS (10)

All eyes will be on outside linebacker as the Colts look to find a replacement for Mathis, who is suspended for the first four games of the season. Werner gets the first crack at starting in Mathis’ spot. McNary is a player for whom Grigson has high expectations. It’ll be up to defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on how he uses McNary.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)

It’s anybody’s guess how the secondary will perform. It’s anybody’s guess who will start alongside Landry at safety. It looked like it would be Howell for most of the offseason, but the Colts signed the veteran Adams in June. Can Toler finally remain healthy? Can Davis live up to his contract? So many questions with no answers at the moment.

SPECIALIST

This only changes if an injury occurs.
Adam VinatieriAP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Score: Patriots 16, Raiders 13 (OT)
Date: Jan. 19, 2002 Site: Foxboro Stadium

The voting is complete for the top play in Patriots history, and I'm in agreement with the majority. My vote is also for Adam Vinatieri's "Snow Bowl" kick.

Here are a few thoughts from this viewpoint:

I kept coming back to the 2001 season throughout the process of this "top play/memorable moment" project and felt that my choice would come from that year because of what it meant to the franchise.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Patriots' history?

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    43%
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    46%
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    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 47,087)

Would it be Drew Bledsoe getting knocked out by Mo Lewis, opening the door for Tom Brady? Adam Vinatieri's "Snow Bowl" kick? The tuck rule play in which Patriots followers will always thank referee Walt Coleman for his knowledge of the rule book? Vinatieri's game-winning kick in Super Bowl XXXVI? Ty Law's interception return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl?

I even considered the Patriots coming out for Super Bowl XXXVI as a team, passing on individual introductions, as a possible "top play/memorable moment" because it was such a powerful statement and captured a big part of the franchise's unexpected run to its first title.

There are many other top plays from other years -- a personal favorite was the record-setting long touchdown pass from Brady to Randy Moss in the 2007 regular-season finale to cap an undefeated regular season -- but '01 trumped them all to me.

Vinatieri's kick just might be the best, most clutch, toughest field goal in the history of this great game.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL decided against making a decision on what to do with extra points next season during the league owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week. The current proposal is to move extra points from the 2-yard line to the 25-yard line.

“There are pros and cons as far as that goes,” Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We have such a great game, the way it’s played. You can look at all the stats. It’s pretty much a seamless play.”

Kickers only missed five PATs last season. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri was a perfect 34-of-34 on extra points. Moving it back 23 yards definitely increases the odds of more misses if the proposal ever gets passed.

“You’re talking about a 43-yard extra point,” Pagano said. “Teams that play outside all the time compared to teams that play indoors half the season or you’re in a division that has multiple domes and you play the better part of your schedule indoors compared to outdoors, you’re talking about having to make decisions with the 2-point conversion that would come into play every time you line up depending on the conditions, the field, weather, wind.”

Colts' performance-based pay

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Nine Indianapolis Colts players received performance-based incentives for more than $100,000 each during the 2013 season. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman and offensive line Hugh Thornton both earned more than $218,000.

The incentives are based off playing time and a player’s base salary. Veteran backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck received only $827.05 out of the $3.46 million which teams are allotted. The money usually benefits minimum-salaried free-agent signings and players on their first NFL contracts who end up playing a lot.

Here’s a breakdown of the top-10 performance bonuses on the Colts.

LB Jerrell Freeman $248,772.35

OL Hugh Thornton $218,167.75

WR T.Y. Hilton $162,808.35

FB Stanley Havili $132,945.28

TE Jack Doyle $128,223.40

DE Ricardo Mathews $118,490.40

LB Cam Johnson $109,230.89

WR Griff Whalen $101,056.36

LB Kelvin Sheppard $100,435.98

LB Mario Harvey $92,307.29

Here’s a breakdown of the bottom-10 performance bonuses on the roster.

WR Reggie Wayne $6,651.65

TE Dwayne Allen $5,711.86

C Khaled Holmes $4,695.54

TE Justice Cunningham $3,913.60

OL Donald Thomas $3,384.86

K Adam Vinatieri $2,738.82

RB Robert Hughes $2,618.30

RB Kerwynn Williams $2,494.16

OL Thomas Austin $1,816.86

QB Matt Hasselbeck $827.05

INDIANAPOLIS -- Re-signing kicker Adam Vinatieri to a two-year deal was not only the right thing, but the only thing to do for the Indianapolis Colts.

Vinatieri isn’t showing any signs of slowing down with his young 41-year-old kicking leg. He’s coming off one of the best seasons in his 18-year career, making 35 of 40 field goal attempts and going a perfect 34-of-34 on extra points.

"I'm pumped that Adam and the Colts were able to come to an agreement,” punter Pat McAfee said. “It's been an absolute honor working with a future Hall of Famer for the past five years, and two more years of that will be wonderful. Adam is a stud, with a lot left in the tank. I'm excited to help him reach a couple more folks on that all-time scoring list, and most importantly, win a lot more games together for the best franchise in the NFL, the Indianapolis Colts.”

Vinatieri’s professionalism and leadership is huge inside the Colts' locker room, as they continue to climb up the ladder in the AFC.

Re-signing Vinatieri also allows McAfee, who agreed to a five-year deal last week, to learn from one of the best and a possible Hall of Famer. McAfee, who handles kickoff duties, said he would eventually like to kick field goals, too.

“However long he wants to play, I just wanted to know whenever that guy is done, whenever that Hall of Fame career is over, that I just want a fair shake in kicking as well,” McAfee said last week.

Free-agency primer: Colts

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: CB Vontae Davis, S Antoine Bethea, K Adam Vinatieri, RB Donald Brown

Where they stand: The Colts have the fourth-most salary-cap space ($41 million) in the league. They solved one of their issues when they signed inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on Thursday to start alongside Jerrell Freeman, Erik Walden and Robert Mathis. Davis is the most important player to re-sign with having to acquire a new starting center next in line after Samson Satele was released on March 6. The Colts re-signed punter Pat McAfee to a five-year deal Friday. The 41-year-old Vinatieri believes he can kick for several more seasons. Expect the Colts to look to add depth at receiver to give quarterback Andrew Luck another target to go with receivers T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

What to expect: The Colts should be able to work out a deal with Davis, who was inconsistent last season but has the talent to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Don't expect the Colts to go with a rookie or second-year player as their starting center. The position is too valuable for them to go that direction with their franchise player, Luck, taking the snaps. New Orleans' Brian De La Puente and Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith are both free agents. Denver receiver Eric Decker is an ideal receiver to go with Hilton and Wayne. The Colts and Decker have mutual interest, but he may be out of their price range if he wants to be paid like a No. 1 receiver. Hakeem Nicks and James Jones are also free agents the Colts could pursue. Acquiring a veteran guard is a better option than drafting one, because Indianapolis has the talent to take another step in the AFC next season. Decker's teammate in Denver, guard Zane Beadles, is a free agent.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Indianapolis Colts general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian has grades for each player scheduled to hit the free agent market on March 11.

Here’s are the grades Polian gave for each of the Colts’ key free agents:

Antoine Bethea: A

Donald Brown: B+

Pat McAfee: B

Vontae Davis: B-

Adam Vinatieri: C

Here's a breakdown of what each letter grade is worth financially.

A: $6+ million AAV (annual average value), 3+ years guaranteed money

B: $2-6 million AAV, 2 years or fewer guaranteed money

C: $2 million or less AAV, 2 years or fewer guaranteed money

D: Minimum salary, 1 year contract

I was a little surprised Polian had Bethea graded higher than Davis, and I was surprised Davis was also graded lower than McAfee and Brown.

One other noted free agent is offensive lineman Mike McGlynn. Polian gave McGlynn a D. He lost his starting job at guard momentarily but was still a better center than Samson Satele. This should help you put into perspective how low McGlynn graded out, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was given a C. Yes, Heyward-Bey, who went from starting the season as the Colts’ No. 2 receiver to ending the season on special teams, graded out higher than McGlynn.

Click here for an explanation of the grading system.

Colts will not use franchise tag

March, 3, 2014
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To no one's surprise, the Indianapolis Colts will not use the franchise tag this year. Teams have until 4 p.m. Monday to use the tag.

Cornerback Vontae Davis was the top candidate for the Colts to use the tag on, but it would have been an expensive one if they had decided to go that route. The franchise tag for a cornerback is $11.8 million.

Davis has potential to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league, but he needs to be consistent. He played well enough at times to look like he was on his way to earning a huge payday last season. But he countered the strong play by having some stretches where he wasn’t focused and he struggled.

The Colts can still work out a long-term contract with Davis and their free agents before their contracts expire March 11.

Davis, safety Antoine Bethea, punter Pat McAfee, kicker Adam Vinatieri and running back Donald Brown are the top players heading into free agency for the Colts.

The Colts used the franchise tag on McAfee last year.
PHILADELPHIA -- Midway through the 2013 NFL season, SI.com’s Peter King took a look at a league-wide trend and concluded, “Kicking field goals is too easy.”

King didn’t spend that much time in Philadelphia.

It wasn’t so much that Alex Henery did a terrible job as the Philadelphia Eagles' kicker. He made 23 of 28 attempts, a success rate of 82 percent. But the more telling number wasn’t the 23. It was the 28.

[+] EnlargeAlex Henery
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelAlex Henery has attempted just five field goals of at least 50 yards in his three NFL seasons.
The best kickers in the league don’t just make 90 percent of their attempts. Their range and success rate give coaches the confidence to turn to them in all kinds of situations, at ever greater distances. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski didn’t just make 15 more field goals than Henery; Gostkowski attempted 13 more.

Henery attempted just two field goals of 50 yards or longer, making one. Gostkowski attempted six. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker attempted seven. So did Green Bay’s Mason Crosby and Dallas’ Dan Bailey.

When the Eagles lost to the New York Giants at home in October, Matt Barkley was playing quarterback in relief of Michael Vick. Late in the second quarter, Barkley drove the Eagles to the Giants’ 27 before being sacked for a 5-yard loss.

Instead of trying a 50-yard field goal with wind swirling, coach Chip Kelly decided to go for a fourth-and-12. Barkley dropped the snap and threw an incompletion.

Now it goes without saying that Barkley could have made better plays on third and fourth down. Taking the sack probably changed Kelly’s strategy. But would the Patriots, Packers, Ravens, 49ers or Cowboys have balked at trying a 50-yard field goal?

The guess here is no. A week earlier, Kelly had made the second-guessable decision to have Henery try a 60-yard kick late in the first half against Dallas. He missed.

A coach without complete confidence in his kicker is like a baseball manager with a shaky bullpen. The ripple effect on his decision-making is constant.

Henery also missed a 48-yard field goal in the Eagles’ 24-22 playoff loss to the Saints. His kickoff to the shallow end zone resulted in a long return that set up the Saints’ game-winning score.

Henery presents a bit of a conundrum for the Eagles. They invested a fourth-round pick in him in the 2011 draft. At 26, he is still at the point in his career when many kickers find themselves. Is it better to take the risk that he will do just that with the Eagles, or the risk that he will do it for some other team?

Most of the top kickers in the league right now were undrafted. Gostkowski, like Henery, was a fourth-round pick. Green Bay’s Crosby was a sixth-round pick. The more typical route is to be signed as a rookie free agent and bounce around until finding the right combination of opportunity and success.

Seattle is Steven Hauschka's sixth team. Denver is Matt Prater's third.

So the Eagles will almost certainly bring in a kicker to compete with Henery, something they didn’t do last year. But it seems unlikely they will use a draft pick, unless somebody they really like -- Chris Boswell from Rice or Anthony Fera of Texas, maybe -- is sitting there in the sixth or seventh round.

Hauschka is to become a free agent, but will likely remain with the defending champions. Veterans Adam Vinatieri and Phil Dawson should be on the market. One intriguing name is Dan Carpenter, who had a good season in Buffalo. If the Bills re-sign Carpenter, that could make Dustin Hopkins, their sixth-round pick from Florida State last year, available.

Kickers are out there. The Eagles have a decent one. The question is whether that’s good enough.

Indianapolis Colts season wrap-up

January, 15, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 8
Preseason Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: The questions were valid. Was linebacker Robert Mathis' production a product of having sack-machine Dwight Freeney playing on the other side? Could Mathis still be an impact player without Freeney? Mathis silenced the naysayers when he led the league in sacks with 19.5, including seven strip sacks. Mathis didn't hide the fact that he wanted to quiet the doubters. What made his season even more special is that he did it without much help elsewhere, as the Colts had only 42 sacks as a team. Mathis is one of the front-runners to be the league's defensive player of the year.

Biggest disappointment: Safety LaRon Landry was supposed to have the same kind of impact Bob Sanders had when he played for the Colts. That's why general manager Ryan Grigson signed him to four-year, $24 million contract. Landry was good when he was able to come up with the big hits or touchdown-saving tackles, but it was too often that he ended up whiffing on a play. The plays on which he missed running back Jamaal Charles on a touchdown run in the regular-season game against Kansas City and New England's LeGarrette Blount on his touchdown run last weekend are two examples that quickly come to mind. It also doesn't help that Landry missed four games because of injury this season.

Biggest need: Help on both lines -- offensive and defensive -- should be at the top of Grigson's list during the offseason. The Colts are set at offensive tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus. Donald Thomas will be back to take one of the guard spots after he missed most of the season with a quad injury, but the other guard spot and center could use upgrades. The Colts need a defensive tackle who can clog the middle of the line.

Team MVP: This is a no-brainer. Quarterback Andrew Luck was mentioned as a league MVP candidate at one point in the season. The second-year quarterback overcame injuries to five key offensive starters -- including future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne -- to cut his interceptions in half, increase his completion percentage and throw the same number of touchdown passes despite 52 fewer attempts. Take Luck out of the lineup and the Colts would have won maybe six games this season.

 

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

January, 11, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few quick thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts’ 43-22 loss to the New England Patriots.

What it means: Colts coach Chuck Pagano said trying to tackle Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount was similar to attempting to take down a “greased pig at the county fair.” It turns out Blount was too slippery for the Colts. Blount set a Patriots playoff record when he rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns on 24 attempts Saturday. The Colts were within seven in the fourth quarter, but Blount’s 73-yard touchdown essentially iced the game for New England. The Patriots ran all over the Colts, finishing with 234 yards and six touchdowns. The 234 yards rushing were the most Indianapolis gave up all season.

Poor play by Luck: It would be easy to point the finger strictly at the defense, which gave up 419 yards. But Colts quarterback Andrew Luck continued his struggles against the Patriots. Luck threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns but he also increased his turnover total to eight -- seven interceptions and a fumble -- in two games against New England. Luck’s ability to lead the Colts back from 28 points behind in the second half against the Kansas City will be talked about for some time, but his seven interceptions in two playoff games can’t go unnoticed, either, especially when he only threw nine picks in the regular season.

Hilton steps up again: The Patriots went into the game with the intention of slowing down receiver T.Y. Hilton, Luck’s primary target. It didn’t work. Hilton had four catches for 103 yards despite being defended by cornerback Aqib Talib for most of the game. Hilton, who was thrust into the go-to role once Reggie Wayne was lost for the season in Week 7, had 17 catches for 327 yards and two touchdowns in two playoff games.

Setting a record: Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri set the playoff record for most PATs when he made his first one in the first quarter. The 41-year-old Vinatieri now has 60 PATs in his playoff career. Vinatieri will likely extend that total next season, but it’s uncertain where that will happen because he’ll be a free agent.

What’s next: The season is complete.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The last thing Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee wanted was to draw some unnecessary attention to the team during the playoffs.

McAfee
But that’s what happened when a picture that was meant to praise kicker Adam Vinatieri was centered around the person in the background after their wild-card victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 4.

McAfee tweeted a picture of Vinatieri, who had a towel around his waist and a sweater with a collared shirt on.

What McAfee didn’t notice when he first tweeted the picture was that quarterback Andrew Luck was naked in the background.

Fortunately for McAfee, though, a Colts employee had his phone in a perfect position – blocking Luck’s butt – to avoid having the Twitter world get a view of the franchise player’s rear end.

McAfee deleted the tweet right away, but the damage had already been done.

Websites like Deadspin and Huffington Post grabbed the picture and wrote stories about it.

McAfee said he immediately called Luck’s phone like 400 times to try to catch the quarterback before he heard about it from somebody else. Luck still hadn’t turned his phone on after the game. McAfee said he was fined between one dollar and $3 million by the team.

“I still feel bad about it today,” McAfee said. “Luckily Andrew is the best and he wasn’t upset about it.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Kicker Adam Vinatieri has only played on two teams during his 18-year career.

The Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots.

Vick
Vinatieri
Vinatieri spent the first 10 years of his career with the Patriots and the past eight years with the Colts. Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game will be the 25th time that he has played in a game between the two teams.

“It really never gets old,” he said. “Two great organizations, great coaches, great players, obviously. It's one of those ones. It's the Sox-Yankees, if you will. That kind of thing where I think both teams respect each other and know what comes to the table. It's going to be a fun game.”

Vinatieri has scored 122 points in his career against the Colts and 37 points in his career against the Patriots. He's New England's all-time scoring leader with 1,158 points.

“Mentally, he's as tough and as consistent as they come,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “I can't think of anybody, certainly no other kicker, that I've coached that I would put ahead of him in terms of mental toughness, concentration, focus, professionalism, all of those things. ... He's a great player and a Hall of Fame kicker if there ever was one.”

Receiver Deion Branch is the latest former Patriot to join the Colts. Safety Sergio Brown and cornerback Darius Butler are also former Patriots now with Indianapolis. Former Colts receiver Austin Collie is now with the Patriots.

“It's kind of the nature of the league,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said, laughing. “There's a lot of guys that switch teams. There's coaches that switch teams. We've had guys from the Colts that have been on the Patriots and vice versa, so I think we're just used to it at this point.”

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