Vinatieri gives Pats leg up
New England's kicker has won two Super Bowls by taking every kick seriously.
FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- Adam Vinatieri approached the ball, drove it toward the uprights and got mad when the field-goal attempt missed.
And that was just during a workout last spring.
"There's no one out here except for us two," said Josh Miller, who had just signed as the New England Patriots new holder and punter. "We were also at 58 yards. So I said, 'OK, that's what I'm part of and it's pretty cool.' "
Vinatieri takes every kick seriously -- whether it's an extra point in a regular-season blowout or a field goal that wins the Super Bowl, whether he's in a dome or driving snow.
Feeling no pressure
His foot may be the difference again in the AFC championship game between two strong defenses on Sunday in Pittsburgh where snow showers are in the forecast, something he grew up with in Yankton, S.D.
"I try to take every kick exactly the same and not think about, oh, this is the playoffs," Vinatieri said. "You don't know if a kick in the first quarter or the kick at the end of the game is going to make the difference."
Two of the biggest field goals of his career came in heavy snow on the way to the Patriots' first championship. His 45-yarder with 34 seconds left forced overtime and his 23-yarder beat Oakland 16-13 on Jan. 19, 2002.
As usual, the pressure didn't affect him.
"I was thinking more about trying to make sure I got good footing and got the ball up in the air than any of the other things that that kick meant," Vinatieri said.
Two weeks later inside the Superdome in New Orleans, his 45-yard field goal on the last play gave the Patriots their first Super Bowl win, 20-17 over St. Louis. He also won last year's Super Bowl indoors in Houston with a 41-yard kick with four seconds left in a 32-29 win over Carolina.
But he leaves those memories on the sidelines.
"You have to go out and re-establish yourself every single day," Vinatieri said Thursday. "Sure, three years ago we had a fun day in the snow and the outcome worked out well, (but) something in the past isn't going to guarantee anything in the future."
Nothing to kick about
Plenty has worked out well in his nine seasons since joining the Patriots as a free agent in 1996.
This season he led the NFL in scoring and made 24 of his last 25 field goal attempts. He's kicked 17 game-winning field goals in the regular season and playoffs, and from inside the 40-yard line he's missed just 21 of 203 kicks.
"He's as good at what he does as (Michael) Jordan at what he does," Miller said. "If he's as good at his trade and used it somewhere else, he'd change the world. But he's a kicker and he has to just settle for being the best kicker."
Heinz Field in Pittsburgh is known as a tough place to kick. Last weekend, Doug Brien of the New York Jets missed two field-goal attempts late in the fourth quarter and overtime, and the Steelers won.
This Sunday, Vinatieri will check the field well before the game and decide which shoes to wear.
"It's going to be cold probably and the field's probably in pretty tough shape," he said. "The worse the weather conditions get, the more controlled you have to be."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick probably would trust Vinatieri in a blizzard.
"He can kick in any conditions," Belichick said. "Nothing really seems to affect him."
Not even a roaring crowd at Heinz Field with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake?
"If you step on the field and just think about the kicking instead of the other stuff, take a big deep breath and really focus in on your job," Vinatieri said, "then the rest of the stuff disappears, the crowd noise, all that stuff. You really don't hear it."
Even though he has practiced in snow, chances are the conditions in Pittsburgh will be different.
"You really can't plan for those type of things," long snapper Lonie Paxton said. "The snow that you're going to bunch up (in practice) is not going to be the same as it is on the field."
Besides, there's no way to be sure of Sunday's conditions because forecasts change.
"Some other front has whipped in from somewhere or other and some tree has blocked this front," Belichick said with a smile. "If you try to be weatherman with the team you'd lose their respect pretty quickly because you really don't know what you're talking about."
Vinatieri has made big kicks in all conditions but admits there was a time when he did feel pressure.
"Probably in my rookie year, every single time I stepped on the field" to fight for a job, he said.
That was a long time and two Super Bowl-winning kicks ago.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.