There is always a fair amount of blame to go around when evaluating team sports. Critics that are opposed or attached to particular players will defend or rip anyone in order to craft their argument on who deserves the most blame after an undesired result. But trends and repeated instances of mistakes typically manifest themselves in revealing who is most at fault.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri up until this season has been a model of consistent reliability. As the NFL's all-time leading scorer, he's had a prolonged track record of fulfilling his role, giving his team the best chance to win. Vinatieri has also developed a reputation over the years for being clutch. Few athletes are better than Vinatieri in any sport at converting on timely and necessary scoring chances. There is no one doubting the production Vinatieri had in the past. His concentration and perfected routine at one point, was an automatic assumption of success. But this season has revealed a Vinatieri that not only isn't clutch, but hinders his team's ability to win. From a special teams stand point, fans can blame the long snapper or the holder for failing to properly place a ball with the laces out, but in the end Vinatieri, as an all-timer, is ultimately responsible.
Fans can also blame a losing effort on aspects other than special teams. Multiple unnecessary roughness penalties, false starts, turnovers, and an inability to tackle, block or catch are all factors that will add up to an undesired result.
The Colts are down to a third string option at quarterback in Brian Hoyer, who is playing for his 9th team in 11 seasons. His start for the Colts against Miami this week was his first since 2017. Coincidentally, that start would come against Indianapolis with the Colts prevailing 26-24. Hoyer performed well throwing for 353 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Sadly for the Colts, Hoyer failed to provide that kind of production against the Dolphins, tossing 3 interceptions. A team can't win when they commit that many turnovers to a tanking team on the brink of rebuilding in the upcoming draft.
But in spite of all the unforced errors by Hoyer and many others, the last two weeks have come down to Vinatieri fulfilling his role. The NFL is sadly a league that is based on present results. It doesn't matter too much what a player has done in years past. Teams are concerned with what a player has done for them lately. Trends reveal a lot about where problems stem from and lately Vinatieri is the biggest cause for concern in Indianapolis.
Sure, Hoyer's pick six against the Steelers didn't help the Colts in the least. But the offense persevered after that mistake. They managed the game enough with a dynamic running attack and a play making defense to leave an opportunity for Indianapolis to win. But Vinatieri failed again, shanking the kick to let Pittsburgh emerge victorious.
Yet, the blame was placed on long snapper Luke Rhodes and holder Rigoberto Sanchez. The consequences of this loss were bigger than a loss of confidence or momentum. Because of Vinatieri, the Colts fell out of first place in the AFC South, needing the win to separate themselves in one of the league's most competitive divisions.
In a position again this week to put the Colts up 13-10 against Miami, Vinatieri missed his fifth extra point attempt of the year, leaving the Colts clinging to a 12-10 lead. Vinatieri's lack of execution on a rather routine play, let the Dolphins lead 16-12 late in the 4th quarter. Instead of just needing to get into field goal range, the Colts had to score a touchdown for any chance at a victory.
If Vinatieri is the greatest kicker in NFL history, he should have been able to convert on an extra point and be trusted enough to extend the game into overtime. But the trend of him missing over the past several weeks has been profound enough that critics are beginning to question if other options exist at his position.
Even against the Broncos three weeks ago where he made the game winning kick, Vinatieri missed two other attempts in that game, including an extra point, much like against Miami, putting the Colts in a position to lose.
Fans of Vinatieri want to remember him for his clutch performances with the Patriots or as a key member of the Colts in their Super Bowl XLI campaign. But they have to look at this situation objectively. It is fair to respect what Vinatieri has done and be fed up with what he is doing now.
At 47, Vinatieri has made over $51 million before taxes. Financially, he is set up with generational wealth. He continues to be compensated handsomely to kick a ball accurately and has consistently failed to do so dating back to the end of last season. Football comes down to field position and points. Vinatieri no longer handles kickoff duties in order to save his leg for the only other job he can fulfill which is scoring. When Vinatieri fails to score, he is failing at the sole purpose of him being on the active roster.
As much as it hurts to say it, father time is undefeated and Vinatieri's time has come. Colts fans are fixated on reminiscing in the past by inviting back former standouts like Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Peyton Manning.
Vinatieri is the remaining holdover from those glory days. But it's time to look toward the future with a new option. Fan favorite Pat McAfee retired at 29 and was adequately replaced by Rigoberto Sanchez. Colts fans watched Peyton Manning leave and were graced with another generational talent in Andrew Luck. It's time to let go of the past and trust in GM Chris Ballard to scout the next Vinatieri. There's nothing more sad than seeing an athlete who hangs on for too long and Adam looks like the latest victim of this group. But that is the only thing Vinatieri is a victim of in his profound career.
Vinatieri has ownership of nearly every kicking record, which includes being the NFL's all-time leading scorer by a healthy margin. Competitively, he has nothing left to prove to fans or to voters who will enshrine him into Canton soon. If he were any other kicker, in any other city, he would have been gone weeks ago. Keeping him any longer is a selfish money grab and will only further tarnish an extremely accomplished career. Critics can blame other aspects of this situation to support their argument for Vinatieri. But his own failures have persisted to the point that even fans can't ignore this negative trend.
Jimmy Kennedy, who believes Adam Vinatieri should have retired last season to completely preserve his legacy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org