Are Frank Reich and Chris Ballard stubbornly hanging onto Adam Vinatieri?

Shalise Manza Young
·Yahoo Sports Columnist

Adam Vinatieri has a very strong case for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The kicker has made some incredible kicks, particularly in the playoffs, and he’s done it for well over 20 years. He’s the NFL’s all-time leader in regular-season and postseason points scored. He’s also the leader in field goals made and he’s second in extra points made.

A self-taught, erratic Division II kicker, he created a record-setting career on hard work and a little bit of luck — kicking guru Doug Blevins picked his VHS tape out of a pile and saw someone with undeniable leg strength, someone he tutored and then got a chance in the World League of American Football before getting a chance with the New England Patriots.

Vinatieri was respected in New England for working as hard in the weight room as the position players did, and he obtained legend status with his kicks in the highest of high-pressure situations.

But he’s 46 years old now and turns 47 next month.

And he’s struggling through the worst season of his incredible career, missing another extra point on Sunday, his sixth miss in 20 extra-point attempts this season. That missed point was huge in the final moments of the game, as the Indianapolis Colts were down 16-12 to Miami and were forced to try for a touchdown instead of a game-tying field goal.

The field goal may not have been a given, either: Vinatieri is 14 of 19 this season, and one of his misses came in the closing seconds last week, a 43-yard attempt that would have given the Colts a road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Adam Vinatieri is struggling through his worst NFL season. (Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Adam Vinatieri is struggling through his worst NFL season. (Justin Berl/Getty Images)

In the season opener against the Chargers, Vinatieri missed field goals from 44 yards and 46 yards, and an extra point in Indianapolis’ 30-24 loss.

Somewhat oddly, his field-goal percentage is better than his extra-point percentage, 73.7 to 70.0.

Colts coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard have stuck by Vinatieri all season, and even after Sunday’s loss Reich said, “We’ve been committed to [Vinatieri]. We’re always going to evaluate. Everybody gets measured, from top to bottom. Nothing meant to read into that, been no discussions. That’s just the business.”

Vinatieri knows the business. In 24 NFL seasons he’s had hundreds of teammates. He’s seen guys on the bottom of the roster get hurt, get cut and never be heard from again.

He’s seen beloved teammates traded (Lawyer Milloy and Drew Bledsoe with the Patriots come to mind) or move on (Peyton Manning with the Colts).

He’s seen guys retire. He’s played for seven head coaches.

The Colts fell to 5-4 on Sunday, and all nine of their games have been decided by seven points or less. They’re not in a position to be leaving points on the field.

Vinatieri has had a career full of incredible moments. He’s kicked in five Super Bowls, winning four. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro.

His place in the game and its history is assured, and his records aren’t likely to be surpassed anytime soon: The nearest active kicker in points scored is the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski, his successor in New England, and Gostkowski is nearly 900 points away from Vinatieri.

Vinatieri will more than likely be enshrined in Canton, just the second pure kicker in the Hall.

But Reich and Ballard can’t let sentimentality rule if they’re serious about winning.

It’s time to bring in a new kicker.

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