INDIANAPOLIS — The seasons come and go, lots and lots of them for Adam Vinatieri, and the graying kickmaster will be back in the familiar environs of Foxborough on Sunday, only this time trying to kick the Colts into the Super Bowl.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to win, I think, every time I’ve been in this situation — each time our team has hoisted that trophy,’’ said Vinatieri, who has finished on the winning side of all five of his AFC Championship game appearances, although he missed the Colts’ run to the Super Bowl during the 2009 season with a knee injury. “It’s a great feeling to win this game and ultimately know you are able to take one more step on the list of goals and have an opportunity to play the following week.
“We know [New England] is a very, very good team and it’s going to take 60 minutes of the best football we’ve got.’’
Vinatieri, 42, won four of his conference championships with the Patriots prior to leaving for midwestern free-agent riches after logging 10 seasons along Route 1. Be it Sunday night or two weeks down the road in Phoenix, he will have completed 19 NFL seasons and already owns league records for most successful field goals (56) and most points (233) in the postseason.
His legacy in Foxborough is intertwined with that of a team that has become one of the modern NFL’s showcase franchises. When he arrived from college in 1996, he was an unknown rookie from South Dakota looking to land regular work for a franchise that had accomplished very little, save for shattered dreams, since opening for business as an AFL upstart in 1960.
All these years later, it’s almost impossible, in some regards, to keep their legacies separate.
“To be a member of a team that works hard, plays well, and achieves goals is one of the things you can learn from football,’’ he said here midweek, pondering his most valuable takeaway while a member of the Patriots. “That’s not just [in New England or Indy], but wherever.
“It’s obvious that there are a lot of guys in [the Colts’] dressing room that have to play well and mesh together. At this point in the year, any team can beat anybody and it’s the team that plays best on Sunday — error-free, turnover-free, makes the most plays — is the team that’s going to win.’’
Sunday will be Vinatieri’s 30th postseason game — he’ll pass Jerry Rice for most appearances — and his chance to make it to a sixth Super Bowl.
“It’s always special,’’ he said. “I love running out, at home obviously with our cheerers cheering for us. The [New England] crowd is pretty electric, they’ll be loud. But the best way to quiet them is to play well.
“The playoffs are just a special thing. There’s a lot of guys around the league who never had the opportunity to play in the playoffs — or even minimally, I guess I should say — to have the opportunity to run out on the field for a game like this [is special]. Obviously, we know what’s at stake. But you never take it for granted. It’s special every single time you have the opportunity.”
Vinatieri’s time in Foxborough spanned both of the Patriots’ homes on Route 1, the one that opened its doors as Schaefer Stadium at the start of the ’70s, as well as the state-of-the-art Gillette that will be busting at the seams again Sunday.
“Every game is different . . . if you are playing in September or playing in January,’’ he said, assessing the kicking conditions of his old haunts. “We won’t know what the conditions are, but we’ll get out there before the game, a couple of hours, and walk the field, to figure out the wind, or if there’s rain, any of that stuff.’’
Any significant difference between the two venues that were his workspace for 10 seasons?
“Both of them could be difficult,’’ said Vinatieri, who increased his regular-season point total to 2,146 in 2014. “Gillette because it has [FieldTurf], maybe you have a better kicking surface than the Foxborough grass. But it still doesn’t guarantee anything. You still have to go out there and put ’em through.’’
Colts offensive tackle Xavier Nixon missed the flight to New England and will not play Sunday, the Indianapolis Star reported.
There was no report on the reason Nixon missed the flight.
Nixon, 24, is in his second year out of Florida, and was listed as a backup tackle on the Colts website.
Richardson out again
Two days after vowing he wouldn’t be benched in consecutive weeks, running back Trent Richardson did not make the trip for personal reasons, according to Colts.com.
Richardson was inactive for the Colts’ win over the Broncos last week. His role had steadily decreased over the course of the season with Daniel Herron emerging as the primary option in the backfield.
Richardson had 101 carries in the Colts first seven games, splitting the backfield with Ahmad Bradshaw.
Richardson hasn’t had double-digit carries since Week 12, when he ran 13 times for 42 yards and a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He took the field for one snap in the Colts’ first-round win over the Bengals two weeks ago.
Ready for challenge
Even though a knee injury limited him in practice this week, Patriots defensive back Brandon Browner was listed as probable going into Sunday’s game. The person who was probably the least surprised was Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who never thought Browner would sit out.
“I fully expect him to be 100 percent,” Pagano said. “At this point playing in this game, you get well and you get well in a hurry. I don’t know how, but you do. He’ll be at full strength, he’ll be at full speed, all that stuff.”
The Colts are wary of the aggressiveness of the Patriots’ pass defense, especially Browner, who was whistled for six pass interference penalties.
“They’re very aggressive and he’s one of the guys,” Pagano said. “They play kind of our brand of football in the back end. They’re going to get in your face and they’re going to get their hands on you.”
That said, Pagano won’t be counting on the Patriots to walk into flags.
“They’re very well-coached,” Pagano said. “We’re not going to count on getting a call here or getting a call there. We’re going to take that out of the equation — or try to take that out of the equation — and use great fundamentals and technique, and compete and match that physicality, and get ourselves open in the back end. That’s our job.”