What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell spoke with a number of New England Patriots, including Tom Brady, who can barely contain his excitement for the arrival of Antonio Brown.
USA TODAYCARSON, Calif. – Steam is shooting from silos in both end zones, fireworks are exploding, fans are roaring, and Adam Vinatieri is trying to leave it all behind.After the Indianapolis Colts’ 30-24 loss Sunday in the 2019 NFL season opener, an overtime crusher against the Los Angeles Chargers as Vinatieri missed three kicks in regulation – “This loss is 100 percent on me,” he said – Vinatieri doesn’t do what he normally does. What’s normal? Making kicks is normal. He’s the G.O.A.T., not the goat, the NFL’s all-time scoring leader, and it’s not normal for him to …Oh, I see. That’s not what you meant when you asked: What’s normal? You meant after the game.Well, normally, the 46-year-old Vinatieri walks onto the field afterward to find the other team’s kicker or punter or long snapper, and he makes small talk. They’re a small fraternity, these NFL specialists. Vinatieri appreciates the camaraderie. But not after this game, this disaster, where he missed an extra point and field goals from 44 and 29 yards.So the steam’s shooting – from the silos, and from Vinatieri’s ears – and he’s headed for the tunnel, but he can’t get there. Chargers kicker Ty Long, a whippersnapper of 26, finds him to say, “I literally can remember sitting in my parents’ house watching you make game-winners when I was 10.”Vinny heads for the tunnel again, but the Chargers’ long snapper, a nice kid out of Alabama named Cole Mazza, loops around the players gathered at midfield. He’s chasing Vinny down, at the 50, the 40, the 30 … and catches up to him near the 25.Doyel on Demand: The latest from Gregg Doyel, delivered right to your inbox.Mazza tugs on Vinatieri’s shoulder, and the Colts kicker turns around. Vinny smiles and listens as Mazza, who was born one year before Vinatieri scored his first NFL points in 1996, says something soothing. Vinatieri pats him in the chest and thanks him. And then he’s gone.Now Vinny is running, and he’s at the 20, the 10, the end zone. He’s running through the tunnel, out of the stadium, and he’s furious with himself.“This is ridiculous,” he tells himself, something he will repeat later to the reporters at his locker. “Missed three kicks. Can’t happen. Ridiculous.”’You’d cut me, wouldn’t you?’Vinatieri’s last two games have been among the worst of a career that has spanned 354 games, second in NFL history behind Morten Andersen’s 382.Understand, the bar is awfully low here. Vinatieri misses, on average, five or six kicks a year. A bad game for Vinny is missing a single kick. Missing more than one? Well, he’s done that just a handful of times in his 24-year career.This was just the third time he has ever missed three in the same game, joining 1996 and 1999 outings against Buffalo. Never, until now, had he missed five kicks over a two-game span. He missed two – an extra point and a 23-yard field goal – in the Colts’ final game last season, that 31-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2018 NFL playoffs.AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext SlideSomeone is pointing that out to Vinatieri, who smiles a humorless smile.“If you were the GM,” Vinatieri said, “you’d cut me, wouldn’t you?”Well, no. That was the reporter’s answer. But it raises a question, doesn’t it?“I don’t make those decisions,” Vinatieri said. “Those decisions are for someone else to make.”And right here is where a singularly crazy day for the Indianapolis Colts careens completely off the rails. After a game that has gone up and down and up and down – with stupid penalties and atrocious special teams and missed tackles, then lightning bolts of greatness from running back Marlon Mack and safety Malik Hooker and receiver T.Y. Hilton to force overtime – Adam Vinatieri is musing about his future in this league.Let’s put that one to rest, right here. This is what coach Frank Reich said afterward, and while Reich doesn’t have the final say on the roster – that would be general manager Chris Ballard – Reich does have input. And here’s the input he was volunteering after this one:“He’s the one guy I’m not worried about,” Reich said of Vinatieri. “We have the greatest kicker of all time. He didn’t have a good day. There were a lot of guys that didn’t.”Vinatieri missed a few weeks of training camp with a knee issue, and someone was asking Reich if he thought Vinatieri was still battling that, or anything else.“I don’t think so,” Reich said. “Like I said, I don’t know what to tell you – that’s the least of my worries right now.”Before we get back to Vinatieri, and to something that happened in his pregame warmup that may have offered a clue of what was coming, let’s acknowledge what Reich should be worried about.So Darius Leonard is mortal?The Colts’ defense stunk. It allowed the Chargers to run for 125 yards on 21 carries – 6.0 yards per carry! – and surrendered 333 passing yards and a 121.3 passer rating to Philip Rivers. Now, Rivers will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Los Angeles running backs Austin Ekeler (12 carries, 58 yards) and Justin Jackson (six carries, 57 yards) will not.But it was Ekeler who embarrassed half the Colts defense on his 55-yard screen-and-run touchdown grab, most notably Darius Leonard, who chased him down and threw two arms around him and failed to wrap him up. First time for everything …Pierre Desir also missed the tackle. And Malik Hooker, a few minutes before he would redeem himself with the swaggiest interception in NFL history – a one-handed grab on the run in the back of the end zone – was in the vicinity when Leonard and Desir converged on Ekeler, and was so convinced they’d make the tackle that he was watching, literally watching from inches away, as Ekeler took off for the end zone.So, the defense. Frank Reich can worry about that.And special teams. Denico Autry’s stupid foul allowed the Chargers to take a field goal off the board and pursue a touchdown, which they scored. Rookie safety Khari Willis – playing the role of punt protector – protected bupkis as Notre Dame product Drue Tranquill burst into the backfield to block a Rigoberto Sanchez punt.But the offense? No real worries there. After a slow start, the offensive line manhandled the Chargers in the second half when Marlon Mack ran for 153 of his 174 yards, including a 63-yard burst for a touchdown. Jacoby Brissett was a cautious but effective 21-for-27 for 190 yards, two TD’s and no interceptions, a 120.7 passer rating the Colts would take 15 more times.T.Y. Hilton scored a highlight-reel touchdown to force overtime, a 19-yard sprint up the sideline after he beat Chargers safety Adrian Phillips to the edge, where his cut upfield and eluded linebacker Thomas Davis.The Colts didn’t need Andrew Luck to beat the Chargers. They needed a better … Adam Vinatieri?That warmup kick …So this happened in pregame warmups:Adam Vinatieri went through his kicking routine, going farther and farther out, when he tried a 56-yarder. I’ve seen Vinatieri hit that one with 10 yards to spare – no lie – but on this day, he stubbed his foot into the ground and the ball didn’t even reach the end zone. Imagine watching another GOAT – Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, pick a golfing legend – tee one up on the driving range and hit it fat for about half the normal distance. That was this stubbed field goal in pregame warmups.In the game. Vinatieri wasn’t normal either. He missed the extra point right, said he got to thinking about that on the sideline, and missed two kicks left, including a 29-yarder. After that one, he stared at the left upright for several beats before going to the sideline and slamming his helmet on the turf.“Disheartening,” he said, “to come out and kick like that.”After he met with the media – waiting at his locker for us, dressed and ready to go to the bus but wanting to be accountable – I asked Vinny how he’d put this behind him. What, I was wanting know, will you do when you get home to relax?Vinny smiled that humorless smile again.“There won’t be a lot of relaxing this week,” he said.Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at www.facebook.com/gregg.doyel.AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide