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Kicking with the enemy Colts' Vinatieri faces former team

INDIANAPOLIS -- No kicker in NFL history has more flair for the dramatic than the Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri.

So it seems reasonable to expect nothing short of a Hollywood ending . . . with Vinatieri in the hero's role . . . in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

Could it get any more perfect than Vinatieri lining up to try the winning field goal against the New England Patriots, the team for which he booted two last-second, Super Bowl-winning kicks?

"If we get that opportunity, great," Vinatieri said with a smile in the Colts' locker room. "If I'm on the sideline cheering on our defense to hold their offense so we can win, great. It doesn't matter. I want to win. That's all I care about."

The Patriots know one thing: They do not want the game in Vinatieri's hands at the end.

"He's not going to miss," said Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel. "You're going to have to block the kick, especially playing indoors. He's never missed in the dome. We're going to have to block a kick for him to miss one."

"You definitely don't want to see him out there [at the end]," said Pats defensive end Richard Seymour. "I think if we could hold him to two field goals, I like our chances."

The Colts signed Vinatieri in March to a $2.4 million-a-year free-agent contract precisely for this situation. They were bounced out of the playoffs last year when their talented but declining kicker, Mike Vanderjagt, missed a 46-yard attempt in the final minute against Pittsburgh.

Vinatieri doesn't know what that kind of miss feels like.

The 34-year-old has provided the decisive points in seven of the 13 playoff games in which he has been involved the past six seasons. He holds the NFL record for most field goals in the postseason -- 34. He has made 31 of his last 32 fourth-quarter attempts. He's 23 for 23 in his career at Indianapolis' RCA Dome. He's 55 of 59 for his career indoors.

It's little wonder that as he was booting his fifth of five attempts through the uprights in last week's 15-6 win at Baltimore, television cameras caught Colts coach Tony Dungy saying, "money, money, money."

Money was the reason Vinatieri did not end his career in a Patriots uniform. The Pats were roughly $12 million under the cap in the spring, and a kicker's annual salary is not even as onerous as that of many starting guards. Yet the Pats decided that they would not be getting the best value for their money by keeping Vinatieri, particularly at his age. So they drafted Stephen Gostkowski, who has had an excellent rookie year, making 20 of 26 attempts.

Vinatieri said that he called both Pats coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft after signing with the Colts but did not get a return call from them. Vinatieri has stressed he thinks that's no big deal, since other ex-Pats like Willie McGinest and Eric Mangini have received similar "you're the enemy now" treatment.

"Coach Belichick is all about winning games, not talking to me," Vinatieri said, reiterating that "everyone has moved on."

Vinatieri saw the Colts as the ideal place to continue his career, given the perfect conditions inside a dome.

"When the Colts called, I told my agent, 'Let's not screw around,' " he told the Boston Globe after his signing. "I told him, 'If Indy is interested, let's get this done.' "

Vinatieri said he's looking forward to facing his old team in such a pressure game.

"It's interesting; it's a fun situation," he said. "Looking back at the beginning of the year, to have these two teams playing together at the end, it's fun. There's been a lot of great football teams and a lot of great games to get to this point, teams like San Diego and Baltimore. But at the end of the year, the two best teams end up playing each other. And we'll see who that is."

He realizes the Patriots represent a monkey on the back of the Colts because they have eliminated Indianapolis from the playoffs two of the previous three years.

"I wouldn't say [they] 'own the Colts,' no," Vinatieri said. "But for the Colts, we've always kind of felt like if we're going to take the next step, you have to knock off the champ, you have to knock off the team that's sitting there in front of you. It's going to be a tough game."

The Colts are hoping Vinatieri, who is 8 for 8 in the playoffs this month, gives them the edge.

"Knowing that you have an ace in the hole . . . it's huge," said Colts cornerback Nick Harper. "We're calling him Mr. Perfect so far."



Kicking it up a notch / Vinatieri's greatest hits

1. 2002 Super Bowl: Kicks 48-yard field goal on final play to give Pats 20-17 upset win over St. Louis.

2. 2004 Super Bowl: Kicks 41-yarder with four seconds left to give Pats 32-29 win over Carolina.

3. 2002 Playoffs: Kicks 45-yarder in snowstorm with 32 seconds left in regulation to force overtime vs. Oakland. Pats win, 16-13.

4. 2004 Playoffs: Kicks 46-yarder in 4-degree cold with 4:06 left to give Pats 17-14 win over Titans.

5. 2007 Playoffs: Kicks five FGs, including 51-yarder that bounces over crossbar, in 15-6 win at Baltimore.

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