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Colts choose Stover over ailing Vinatieri as kicker during playoffs

  • By Associated Press
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Jim Caldwell is kicking conventional wisdom to the curb.

The Indianapolis Colts' coach plans to use Matt Stover during the playoffs instead of four-time Super Bowl winner Adam Vinatieri, regarded as the best clutch kicker in NFL history.

Caldwell explained his decision Thursday, saying Vinatieri hadn't fully recovered from midseason surgery on his kicking knee and that Stover had done a "great job" since joining the Colts in October.

"I think the concern was health issues or whatever," Vinatieri said. "I guess it makes sense. I didn't necessarily care for the decision. Obviously, all of us want to be on the field as much as we can, but I understand the concerns."

Vinatieri still could have his chance. The Colts (14-2) will not put him on injured reserve and intend to carry both kickers on the active roster, meaning Vinatieri might yet kick if he can get healthy.

Few teams have the luxury of choosing between two of the league's most productive and experienced kickers.

Vinatieri won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, including two on game-winning kicks, before he joined the Colts in 2006 and won another title that season. He might be best remembered, though, for making the tying and winning kicks on a snowy New England night to beat the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs in January 2002, the "Tuck Rule Game."

Stover won a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens in 2000 and ranks No. 4 among kickers with 2,004 career points. Vinatieri has 1,528 points, and both he and Stover rank among the top 15 all-time in field goals made.

But Caldwell's decision came down to one factor: Health.

Vinatieri has played in only one game since Oct. 11, against the New York Jets on Dec. 27. His first extra-point attempt was blocked, although Vinatieri later made a 22-yard field goal -- barely longer than an extra point.

"He (Stover) has done a great job for us," Caldwell said. "He's fit in extremely well, he's very mature and he's done an exceptional job. They are two great ones. You know it's a very unique situation, but that's kind of the way it is right now. But we feel good about our options."




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Stover, who handled every major kick for the Ravens franchise from 1991 to 2008, was let go by the team during the offseason. He signed with the Colts on Oct. 14, the day Caldwell announced that Vinatieri would miss four to eight weeks after having arthroscopic surgery to remove cartilage in his right knee.

Since then, Stover has been nearly flawless. He has made 33 consecutive extra-point attempts and 9 of 11 field-goal tries -- one miss was from 52 yards -- and he doesn't even have to worry about kickoff duties, which are handled by rookie Pat McAfee.

"My mindset, since I was signed, was to kick this team all the way to the Super Bowl and through it," Stover said. "I'm not here to replace Adam. I'm here to help this team get to the Super Bowl and, unfortunately, Adam was injured during that time, which gave me that opportunity. This is for this year, this is to help this team win the Super Bowl, and at this point, I feel confident in my abilities to be able to do that."

Stover said he and Vinatieri are old hunting buddies, a relationship that could ease any potential strains while the Colts embark on another Super Bowl quest.

And both have been around long enough to understand the team doesn't need any distractions heading into next weekend's divisional-round playoff game against the Ravens, Jets or Cincinnati Bengals. The Colts earned a first-round bye and the AFC's top seed by winning their first 14 games this season.

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"I don't make any of those decisions about who is activated and who is not, but I'm going to keep preparing like I'm going to be the guy who goes out on the field," Vinatieri said. "If it happens that way, great, and if it doesn't, I'm going to be a good cheerleader."

For now, the job belongs to Stover.

"Sometimes you don't need a kicker, but sometimes you do and if it comes down to that, I'll be ready," Stover said.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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