NEW YORK (AP) — Adam Vinatieri is still clutch — and still almost automatic.
The veteran Indianapolis Colts kicker made a 43-yard field goal as time expired this past Sunday in a 23-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans, his first game-winner in over two years.
The man who has two Super Bowl-winning kicks was happy to get reacquainted with a bit of pressure in time for Saturday night’s playoff game against the New York Jets.
“It’s been a little while since I’ve had the opportunity,” he said. “There were a couple games early in the year where it was looking like we might have a chance and it didn’t turn out that way, but it’s always nice to have an opportunity to get out there and try and help your team win games. It was nice to get it when we did, and hopefully, we’ll carry that momentum into the postseason.”
Vinatieri also made a season-long 48-yarder and a 44-yarder against the Titans. He has made 14 straight field goals since missing his only two attempts of the season Oct. 17 at Washington.
“He has really been solid down the stretch here,” quarterback Peyton Manning said. “He has made a lot of kicks. We certainly feel like we want to be better in the red zone and don’t like settling for field goals, but when called upon, that is what he does. We certainly felt real good about that, but you don’t take him for granted. I certainly don’t.”
The 38-year-old Vinatieri has statistics to be proud of. He ranks 11th all-time in field-goal percentage (82.7), 11th in field goals made and is one of just seven players in league history to score 500 or more points with two different teams.
“His longevity is based upon the fact that not only is he good, not only is he extremely accurate, but he is also a real professional in how he goes about taking care of himself,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said.
But Vinatieri is best known for when he makes kicks.
He won two Super Bowls for the New England Patriots in the final seconds — a 48-yarder to beat the St. Louis Rams in 2002 and a 41-yarder to beat the Carolina Panthers two years later.
As a Colt in 2007, he made five field goals in the playoffs against Baltimore to help Indy beat the Ravens 15-6, and made three field goals in a Super Bowl win over Chicago. He made 14 of 15 field goals in the playoffs that year and set an NFL record by scoring 49 points in the postseason.
He has 23 game-winning field goals in his 15-year career with the Colts and Patriots. He made 26 of 34 postseason field goals with New England, and 16 of 17 with the Colts.
“He’s very settled,” Caldwell said. “He’s not one that’s prone to do anything in the extreme, and he functions in the clutch consistently.”
Vinatieri didn’t have a chance to add to his postseason legend last season. He had surgery on his right hip in June 2009 which caused him to miss all of training camp. After playing in the first five games that season, he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to remove a piece of cartilage. He thought he might be able to return, but he was inactive during Indy’s run to the Super Bowl as the Colts chose to stick with his replacement, Matt Stover.
“It was a little difficult to stand on the sideline and try to be a cheerleader instead of a participant in the game,” Vinatieri said. “I tried to do what I could as far as leadership, not being on the field. It was difficult personally, but professionally, it was great seeing our team do as well as it did.”
He recovered from the surgeries and is fully healthy now.
“This offseason, we spent a lot of time strengthening and doing some rehab and making sure that I was healthy, and knock on wood, I’ve felt great the whole season long and it hasn’t been an issue,” he said. “I can’t say I feel like a new man, but I feel like a repaired man.”
This season, he made 26 of 28 attempts and was the most accurate kicker in the league among those with at least 20 kicks. He scored 129 points, the second-best total of his career.
“I didn’t have any doubts that I could make it back,” he said. “A lot of guys have knees and shoulders that need to be fixed, then you go on to the next year. I figured if we had the offseason to get ready and prepare, it should be a successful season.”
Vinatieri always has enjoyed the playoffs, but appreciates it more now.
“It’s nice to get back to the postseason, and it’s nice to be a part of it on the field, rather than on the sideline.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.