INDIANAPOLIS — Frank Reich never has lost confidence in his veteran kicker.
Not when Adam Vinatieri struggled mightily during the first two weeks to open the season. And not when the yips appeared to return Sunday with a badly shanked 45-yard field goal and a missed extra point in the first three quarters against the Denver Broncos.
With the game on the line and 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Indianapolis Colts head coach didn’t hesitate to send Vinatieri out to attempt a 51-yard field goal.
It split the uprights down the center and provided the winning points in a 15-13 decision. It also earned Vinatieri AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors Wednesday.
“I mean, there is literally not anybody else in the world — no matter what happened that day before there — there is no one else you want going out there for a kick to win the game than him,” Reich said. “He had an unbelievable game. I mean, making two kicks outside of 50 (yards) and then the other one (a 45-yarder in the third quarter) — then, of course, the big-time game winner.”
It was the 29th game-winning field goal of Vinatieri’s celebrated career and tied for the second-longest. He made a 53-yarder to beat the Minnesota Vikings in 2012 and also connected from 51 yards to knock off the San Diego Chargers in 2008 and the San Francisco 49ers in 2017.
Reich wasn’t the only person on the Indianapolis sideline convinced the kick was going to be successful.
Veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has witnessed six of Vinatieri’s game winners in person, and he’s never surprised by the result.
“You see him out there (in practice) making kicks from all over the field,” Hilton said. “He’s been doing it time and time again. He’s the goat for a reason. If the game’s on the line, our job is to get into field-goal range and let him do his thing.”
Things were concerning enough after Week 2 — when Vinatieri was a combined 2-for-5 on field goals and extra points — the Colts brought in six kickers for a tryout.
But Reich never wavered in his support.
Even at Vinatieri’s lowest point this season, Reich remained convinced he’d win a game for Indianapolis at some point with his leg.
On Sunday, that prophecy came true.
“Here is what I love about Vinny, he’s got as much of an edge as any player,” Reich said. “I think that’s really what’s amazing about him, that he has this mental edge that he literally never lets his guard down. He never rests on his past success — however many kicks he’s made, he’s got an edge to him all the time. That’s why I love him as a leader on our team.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
As the NFL season reaches its midway point, talk of postseason awards is beginning to heat up.
With Indianapolis on top of the AFC South just two months after franchise quarterback Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement — and through a wave of early season injuries in the defensive secondary — Reich’s name has been popular in the Coach of the Year discussion.
He, of course, has plenty of support inside the Indianapolis locker room.
“He’s a players’ coach,” wide receiver Zach Pascal said. “He’s a former player. He knows how to connect with his players and puts them in the right position. Everybody on this team loves Frank. We believe in him.
“Honestly, because of his belief in us, I would say that’s why everybody wants to play for him. As far as the team goes, this team is doing pretty good right now. Coach of the Year would be amazing for him.”
After briefly leaving Sunday’s game with a neck injury, defensive tackle Denico Autry did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. He’ll be among a handful of players to keep an eye on as the week progresses.
Cornerback Pierre Desir (hamstring) again did not participate, with Reich saying the Colts are hoping to get the veteran back to 100 percent. Cornerback Kenny Moore II (knee), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (foot) and safety Khari Willis (foot) also did not practice.
Defensive tackle Carl Davis (hamstring) returned as a limited participant after a week off, and Hilton (calf) and left guard Quenton Nelson (hip) also were limited.
Defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis (ankle) was a full participant.