|Colts, Chargers trying to keep emotions in check for playoffs|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 11 January 2008 10:20|
The practice schedule, the pregame warmups, even the way he prepares for a kick remain the same. He figures that's why he earned the title of NFL's best clutch kicker, with consistency, and if the four-time Super Bowl winner has learned anything about the playoffs, it's this: Don't change anything for the postseason.
``Nothing changes, except that it's single-elimination,'' he said. ``So it adds a little more excitement and pressure, but as far as playing, it's still 11-on-11 and you have to go out and win the game.''
For players like Vinatieri who make annual playoff appearances, getting ready for postseason play is just part of the norm, which may well explain why Vinatieri holds NFL career postseason records for most field goal attempts (49) and most field goals made (40).
But as Colts coach Tony Dungy knows, there's always the temptation to do more.
With the enhanced spotlight and the definition of an entire season potentially looming on every play, many players struggle to cope with the pressure.
Even experienced playoff teams such as San Diego and Indianapolis, who square off in Sunday's second-round game at the RCA Dome, aren't immune to mistakes.
``When you get to the playoffs, you don't know what to expect,'' Dungy said. ``There's a lot of ways you're going to have to win in the playoffs. Really, a lot of it comes down to making the same mundane plays you've been making all season and playing hard for 60 minutes.''
Dungy's Colts (13-3), the defending Super Bowl champs, and the Chargers (12-5) have both learned that lesson the hard way.
After earning the AFC's top seed in 2005 and 2006, respectively, both teams lost at home in the second round on seemingly improbable plays. The NFL's most accurate kicker, Mike Vanderjagt, shanked a potentially tying field goal to the right for Indy, and Marlon McCree lost a fumble after intercepting Tom Brady to give the Patriots a second chance.
Yes, the playoffs are rife with those kinds of moments. Remember the Immaculate Reception? Or Brett Favre's six interceptions against St. Louis in 2001? Or Tony Romo dropping the ball while holding for a field goal last year?
Which is why Dungy insists his players, like Vinatieri, should expect to do nothing more than they've done all season.
But emotions can also work to a team's advantage. San Diego ended its 13-year playoff drought last week by beating Tennessee, revving it up for this week's showdown in Indy.
``The momentum of going into this playoff game is going to be a big thing for us,'' 2006 MVP LaDainian Tomlinson said. ``We are coming off a fresh win last week. Keeping that momentum of playing football and not taking any time off, that's going to help us.''
Adding to the Chargers' excitement is their recent history against the Colts.
San Diego stopped the Colts' perfect run in 2005 with a 26-17 victory, and in November, the Chargers used two kick returns for touchdowns by Darren Sproles to beat the Colts 23-21 - only after Vinatieri pushed a 29-yard field goal wide right with 1:31 to go.
Vinatieri has relived that moment this week despite his attempts to forget.
``Sometimes, it's like a golf swing. You hit it and you feel it and you say 'That didn't come out right,' `` he said. ``I think I short-legged that one a little bit. So you go back and watch the film on it, and then you put it to bed because nothing that happened six or eight weeks ago is going to help me or hurt me now.''
Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding has had to endure such memories two of the last three offseasons.
The two-time Pro Bowl kicker is 2-of-4 all-time in his playoff career. The two misses: a 40-yarder in overtime against the New York Jets in 2004, and a 54-yarder in the closing seconds that would have forced overtime last year against New England.
``Obviously when there's a lot more on the line, there's a lot more around your head,'' Keading said. ``You've just got to go out there and do your job, and no one's done it better than Adam in the playoffs.''
Vinatieri just hopes he can live up to the reputation as Mr. Clutch on Sunday - if needed.
And maybe even get a shot at redemption.
``When the playoffs come around, it's always exciting and the guys who can put that behind them are usually the ones who make plays when they need to,'' Vinatieri said. ``The more you play in the playoffs, the more you know at least what to expect and the hoopla doesn't change you much.''