Colts general manager Chris Ballard had a choice earlier this season – replace the best kicker in NFL history with someone off the street, or hope that Adam Vinatieri’s struggles straightened themselves out.
Whether Vinatieri’s suddenly erratic field goal tries were caused by a bad left knee, laces out or some other odd confluence of circumstances was irrelevant. The NFL is the ultimate meritocracy, and misses are misses regardless of the cause. Ballard chose Vinatieri perhaps a bit out of loyalty, but mostly because he wasn’t comfortable with replacing him with a guy 32 teams chose not to employ before the season.
For 23 seasons, Vinatieri won a lot of games for the New England Patriots and Colts. This season was different. This year he missed kicks that led directly to losses against the Chargers, Broncos, Steelers and Dolphins.
Expecting perfection is ridiculous, but for a team that lost its franchise quarterback to retirement 15 days prior to the regular season opener, the margin between success and failure is razor thin. Vinatieri missing 14 kicks and leaving 30 points unscored leaves an unpleasant mark on a season that could have been special.
After two of Vinatieri’s kicks were blocked and a third missed during yesterday’s Colts 31-17 loss, the question of whether he should remain the Colts kicker is being asked again. The Titans block on the 46-yard attempt that was returned for a TD turned a potential three-point lead with five minutes left into a seven-point deficit. The block had nothing to do with Vinatieri, but that’s slight consolation.
With a perfect Vinatieri, that Colts could very well be 11-1 and in command of the AFC – let alone the AFC South. It’s important to remember that potential success as we evaluate Jacoby Brissett as the Colts longterm answer at quarterback, but that’s a topic for another post.
If Ballard fired Vinatieri after any of the weeks where he missed important kicks and replaced him with Cody Parkey, and Parkey delivered as many formerly unemployed kickers do, he would be excoriated for not trusting the G.O.A.T. He chose the G.O.A.T. and he continues to miss, so Ballard is a loyal fool.
That’s why NFL GMs make the big bucks.
The choice was clear as mud. The 46-year-old with four Super Bowl championships but a balky plant leg, or a guy sitting on his couch. This wasn’t Let’s Make a Deal with a car behind the curtain and a zonk in the box. In the NFL, sometimes zonks are everywhere. That’s why consistent success is so rare. The Patriots are the only team in NFL history to post double digit wins in 17 consecutive seasons for a reason.
With four games left in the season, the Colts are two games behind the Houston Texans and have only an 11% chance to return to the playoffs. There is a lot of blame to go around for that. Some blame belongs to Vinatieri. Some to Ballard. Some belongs to Frank Reich and every member of the Colts roster. That’s the NFL – where it’s guilt or glory for all, depending upon the result of a field goal try.
Vinatieri spent 23 years making GMs and coaches look smart. 2019 will be remembered for Vinatieri making a GM look too loyal for his own good.