INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The last time the Indianapolis Colts experienced the worst New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y. had to offer, Adam Vinatieri had a warm, cozy seat.
It was Jan. 3, 2010, the final day of the ’09 regular season, and the veteran placekicker still was idled by hip surgery. Vinatieri watched his teammates deal with the Buffalo Bills and outrageously bad weather conditions – minus-2 wind chill, heavy snow, wind gusts that reached 25 miles per hour – from the comfort of his couch.
The 30-7 loss was inconsequential since the Colts had turned their back on the perfect season the previous week against the New York Jets. They played their starters just long enough for Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark to push their receptions totals to an even 100.
The elements were unforgettable.
“Nasty weather,’’ Vinatieri said.
The forecast for Sunday’s meeting is balmy in comparison: high of 28, good chance of snow. Perhaps an inch or so. Wind? Probably.
“You definitely prepare for it,’’ Vinatieri said. “Temperature isn’t a big concern. For me, wind in a bigger concern than the actual temperature.
“Clearly the colder it is, the ball doesn’t travel as far. But the wind can wreak havoc on where it’s flying.’’
The Colts prepared for Sunday by practicing outdoors twice this week; they were indoors Friday. The elements cooperated Thursday, the day reserved for third-down work, by offering gusty wind.
“From the quarterback perspective and wide receivers, (they were) able to navigate through that,’’ Chuck Pagano said.
Vinatieri and his kicking colleagues – holder Rigoberto Sanchez and snapper Luke Rhodes – planned on working outdoors Friday, but frozen turf pushed them inside. He’ll take several different types of shoes with him this weekend, and settle on the most appropriate length of cleat to wear for the game.
“If the ground’s frozen, you play in tennis shoes,’’ Vinatieri said.
He held a pair of shoes that had a slightly-raised tread on the bottom.
“I’ll prepare for the worst and whatever it is, you go out there and do your thing,’’ Vinatieri said.
In all likelihood, Vinatieri will be on the field for a half-dozen or so snaps. But each figures to be critical. Points might be hard to come by. Thus far he’s more than held up his end of things while the Colts have meandered to a 3-9 record. Vinatieri is 22-of-23 on field-goal attempts, and his .957 percentage trails only Carolina’s Graham Gano (23-of-24, .958).
The Colts rank 28th in scoring (17.1 points per game) and the Bills 23rd (18.9). The Colts’ offense has scored 19 touchdowns, tied for the second-fewest in the NFL, while the Bills have notched 21.
Somewhat surprisingly, New Era Field has been a receptive venue for placekickers this season. The Bills’ Stephen Hauschka is 11-of-13 on home turf, including three 50-plus yarders. Opposing kickers are 12-for-12, including 4-for-4 on 50-plus yard attempts.
Also somewhat surprisingly, Orchard Park hasn’t been one of Vinatieri’s favorite destinations. He visited there annually with the New England Patriots from 1996-2002, and overall has kicked at New Era Field – previously Ralph Wilson Stadium – 11 times during the regular season.
Vinatieri’s bottom line in Orchard Park: 11-of-20. He missed a 52-yard attempt in the Colts’ 2015 season-opening 27-14 loss to the Bills, his only regular-season visit since signing with the Colts in 2006.
The Colts visited Orchard Park for a 2016 preseason game and Vinatieri contributed 24- and 38-yard field goals to their 19-18 loss.
“It was windy and nasty and crappy,’’ he said. “You expect that.
“If it’s a nice day, all the better.’’
- Let it snow: Vinatieri is best known for delivering a pair of game-winning field goals to deliver world championships to the Patriots: a 48-yarder as time expired to beat the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI and a 41-yarder with 4 seconds remaining to beat Carolina 32-29 two years later.
Ask him his most demanding kicks, though, and his mind undoubtedly will drift back to a 2001 AFC divisional round playoff game with the Oakland Raiders. In blizzard conditions – 25 degrees, swirling snow – Vinatieri drove a 45-yard field goal through the elements with 27 seconds to play to tie the score at 13-all and force overtime. He then knocked down the game-winning 23-yarder in OT.
“That was a nasty day,’’ he said.
Perhaps, but it was the start of something special.
Vinatieri’s dramatic field goals were instrumental in sending Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots to the first of seven Super Bowls and the first of five world championships.
- Medical update:Wide receiver Donte Moncrief (ankle), cornerback Rashaan Melvin (hand) and tight end Darrell Daniels (hamstring) have been ruled out of the Bills game. Offensive lineman Denzelle Good (illness), cornerback Chris Milton (neck) and center Mike Person (ankle) are questionable.
Center Ryan Kelly was a full participant in Friday’s practice and is expected to return to the lineup after missing last Sunday’s loss at Jacksonville with a concussion. He still had to be cleared by an independent neurologist.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.