Adam Vinatieri at it again, saves Colts with 51-yarder in overtime

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – How fitting an end to a game that seemed as if it would never end, and if it did, would end with absolutely nobody celebrating.

Adam Vinatieri, one of only two holdovers from the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning era, ended a long and adventurous Sunday afternoon with the San Francisco 49ers with a 51-yard field goal with 1:38 remaining in overtime.

Instead of enduring their first tie since 1982 – Colts 20, Green Bay 20, for those keeping track – the Colts escaped with a 26-23 non-loss.

It was Vinatieri’s 27th game-winning kick – and NFL record 10th in overtime – and don’t bother asking if knocking down money kicks is getting old for the NFL’s oldest active player.

“Never. Eh, no,’’ the 44-year old Colt said with a smile. “Everyone of them is a little different in their own way. Not against 22-yard game-winners, either.

“I’ll take ‘em anyway I can get ‘em.’’

Vinatieri’s immediate reaction following Luke Rhodes’ snap, Rigoberto Sanchez’s hold and his kick toward Lucas Oil Stadium’s open window told the story. He pumped his fist.

“It started a little bit right,’’ he said, “but my ball usually draws a couple of feet. I looked up and saw where it was at and I knew it was going to come in.’’

It did, but only after:

  • Vice-President Mike Pence darted out of Lucas Oil Stadium early in protest to the San Francisco 49ers’ silent, kneeling national anthem protest.
  •  The Colts seemingly grabbed the game by the throat with Jacoby Brissett’s 3-yard quarterback draw at the 9:56 mark of the fourth quarter. Just like that, they were up 23-9.
  •  The Colts quickly yielded yet another 23-9 fourth-quarter led – anyone remember 12 months ago at Houston, and losing 26-23 in OT? – as Brian Hoyer passed for two TDs in the final 8 minutes.
  •  What appeared to a game-winning TD drive to open overtime evaporated when Brissett suffered a goal-line interception by linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong on first-and-goal at the 49ers 8.
  • The same defense that gave away the late 14-point lead gave Brissett and the offense – and eventually Vinatieri – one last chance by forcing a 49ers punt midway through the extra period.

“San Francisco is a good team,’’ safety Darius Butler said, “but obviously we made it too hard. We didn’t finish like we should have.’’

Vinatieri finished like he had on so many occasions.

“I know how he takes this game seriously,’’ running back Frank Gore said. “I know how much he loves doing what he’s doing.

“It’s good when we get close knowing we’ve got a guy who’s been doing that his whole life.’’

Vinatieri’s teammates agreed. They were ultra-confident his right foot contacted the football.

“You put your hands up,’’ said wideout T.Y. Hilton. “It’s going in.’’

“I’m sure he went out there and there’s butterflies in his stomach and that’s probably the biggest kick he’s ever kicked in his career . . . NOT!’’ Butler said, laughing. “When he’s running out there, we had all the confidence in the world in him.’’

And with good reason.

Vinatieri already had cleaned up several messes left on the field by the Brissett-led offense with 52-, 23- and 38-yard field goals. His four on the day pushed his career total to 539 field goals, second-most in NFL history. The 51-yarder is tied for the second-longest game-winner of his career (53 versus Minnesota in 2012, 51 at San Diego in ’08).

From 2006 to 2011, Vinatieri was Manning’s kicker, and delivered four game-winning kicks during their time together.

Again, so appropriate that Manning’s old kicker ignited a celebration on a day and weekend designed to honor Manning’s comprehensive impact on the franchise and city. Saturday, the team unveiled Manning’s statue outside of Lucas Oil Stadium. Sunday, the Colts added Manning to the Ring of Honor and retired his No. 18 jersey.

Vinatieri and left tackle Anthony Castonzo are the only remaining players from Manning’s final season in 2011. Vinatieri is the only current Colt to have stepped on the field with him since Manning missed ’11 with his neck issues.

“It’s amazing how fast it goes and the turnover rate,’’ Vinatieri said. “It was awesome seeing not only him, but all the guys back from that dynasty and those years that won so many games and played so hard.’’

Among former Colts on hand to help celebrate Manning’s moment: Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James, Jeff Saturday, Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, Tarik Glenn, Brandon Stokley, Robert Mathis.

“I didn’t get to spend a lot of time (with Manning),’’ Vinatieri said. “I gave him a high-five and hug at halftime, but that was about it.

“It was sure good to see him.’’

That Colts were saying the same thing about Vinatieri. Work during pregame warm-ups convinced Vinatieri his range was about 60 yards.

“It was flying well today,’’ he said.

Even with absolutely everything on the line. Vinatieri insisted he tries to approach every kick the same, especially game-winning attempts.

“Only a couple of minutes left, I knew it was our last opportunity to put points on the board,’’ he said. “You know what it means if you make it, you know what it means if you don’t.

“You still have to have focus. The guys up front are doing a fantastic job. The young guys, the snapper and holder – Rigo and Rambo – are doing fantastic as well, making my job a little easier.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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