INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There was so much wreckage to sift through Sunday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium after the Indianapolis Colts lost a game they absolutely, positively shouldn’t have lost.
That wreckage, for those who still can’t believe it: a 16-12 playoff-damaging setback to the Miami Dolphins. The 1-7 Miami Dolphins, who returned to South Florida 2-7. The Colts sit 5-4, but at this point are on the outside looking in at the postseason.
Brian Hoyer? He looked the part of 34-year old backup who didn’t get enough work in practice because Jacoby Brissett appeared to be on track to start. Hoyer gets a pass on the first of his three interceptions – Steven Parker pried the ball out of Eric Ebron’s hands in the end zone before Ebron could complete the catch – but the other two were on him. And they were killers and a major reason he’s lost his last 10 starts.
The running game? Aside from a few Marlon Mack bursts, it too often spun its wheels against a Miami defense that the rest of the NFL has torn to shreds.
The offensive line? We’ve already mentioned the lack of a consistent ground game, but it also allowed too much pressure on Hoyer.
Adam Vinatieri? Yes, again. He converted 25- and 39-yard field goals – the latter just barely hooked inside the left upright – but pulled a PAT wide left in the fourth quarter that left the Colts on top 12-10 instead of 13-10. It was his sixth missed PAT of the season, a personal best, and 11th kick overall.
Considering the frantic finish, Vinatieri’s latest errant kick stuck out the most. Had he pumped it through the uprights, it’s 16-13 and the Colts could have settled for a Vinatieri field-goal attempt on fourth-and-10 at the Miami 16 with 45 seconds remaining to force overtime. Instead, Hoyer hit Ebron with an 8-yarder.
And more criticism aimed at the NFL’s all-time scoring leader who’s in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his 24-year career. His 11 total missed kicks are one short of matching his career high, which occurred in 1996, his rookie season with the New England Patriots.
Vinatieri didn’t dodge the media after another inconsistent outing, but neither did he have any answers.
“I was just hoping we were going to score a touchdown,’’ he said. “It would have been nice to have an opportunity at the end to make a difference, for sure.’’
Is his confidence wavering?
“It’s fine,’’ he said. “It’s there. It’s not a matter of that. It’s just a matter of executing.’’
Vinatieri dismissed the notion he’s still dealing with an injury to his left knee that forced him to miss a portion of the preseason.
“We don’t talk about injuries one way or the other,’’ he said. “I’m healthy enough to be on the field.’’
Is retirement out of the question?
“It was never in the question before,’’ he said. “That was a nasty rumor. That’s a decision for other people.’’
So you just go back to work?
“What do you want me to do?’’ he said.
The Colts still are very much in the hunt for the AFC South title, but it seems as if they’re doing so in spite of Vinatieri.
He missed 46- and 29-yard field goals and a PAT in the opening overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, and duck-hooked a potential game-winning 43-yarder last week at Pittsburgh – the laces kick, remember? The Colts won at Tennessee 19-17 in week 2 even though Vinatieri missed two PATs. Vinatieri knocked down a game-winning 51-yarder to turn back Denver 15-13, but it was needed because he missed a 45-yarder earlier in the game.
General manager Chris Ballard put six kickers through a workout after Vinatieri missed five kicks in the first two games, but opted not to make a change.
Frank Reich’s confidence in his kicker has been solid, but is it deteriorating?
After week 2: “I have zero concern.’’
After the loss to Pittsburgh: “I obviously still have all the confidence in the world in Adam.’’
After Sunday’s unforgivable loss, which again, involved multiple culprits: “We’ve been committed to him, but like everybody I’d say this generally speaking about our roster (and) obviously just coming off the field: we’re going to always evaluate. Everybody gets measured. Everyone’s held accountable. From top to bottom, that’s always the case.
“Nothing meant to read into that. That’s just the reality of this business. There have been no discussions about that between Chris and I.’’
Reich was asked why he has remained confident in his kicker.
“It’s the track record and it’s what we see in practice and . . . I believe this guy to be mentally one of the toughest guys ever to play,’’ he said. “To do what he’s done in his career . . . that’s what’s going into that.’’
However, Reich made it clear he’s losing patience with Vinatieri’s PAT issues. Vinatieri actually has a better percentage on field goals (73.7, 14-of-19) than PATs (70.0, 14-of-20).
“Yeah, there is an expectation there, whatever the percent is to make an extra point – 97 percent or 96-point-something percent,’’ he said. “So we need to hit those.’’
Reich hasn’t detected an erosion of the team’s confidence in Vinatieri despite his travails.
“I haven’t heard anything, sensed anything,’’ he said. “Nothing but confidence in him.’’
That was the sentiment in the locker room. Is the confidence in Vinatieri unwavering?
From center Ryan Kelly: “In my opinion we should have scored so many points out there. Obviously trust him since I’ve been a rookie and that will never change.’’
From Ebron: “Absolutely. If they rule my touchdown a touchdown, this conversation really isn’t happening.’’
From offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo: “Yeah, we have to be. He’s our kicker. He has been. Yeah, as long as he’s on this team we’re 100 percent behind him.’’
All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard seemed perturbed at the notion anyone would question Vinatieri.
“It never drops. It is what it is,’’ he said.
Leonard quickly turned things around on a reporter.
“How many years you been kicking?’’ he asked.
How many Super Bowl championships you have?’’
How many game-winner’s you got?
“C’mon now,’’ Leonard said. “He’s the GOAT for a reason. It is what it is.
“We don’t listen to outside noise. We don’t care what the outside noise says. As long as the 53-, 63-man roster believes in each other, that’s all that matters.’’
The fact remains the Colts are a team with a small margin of error. They’ve outscored their opponents 194-193. And Vinatieri has left 21 points on the field with missed kicks
Be sure to catch a recap of the game tomorrow on the Colts Blue Zone Podcast: