Foxborough, Mass. - The 2004 season is turning out to be a career year for Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri. At no time was Vinatieri better than he was in November, which turned out to be a career month as he played a crucial role in helping the Patriots to a 4-0 record.
Vinatieri was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November after a remarkable stretch in which he was a perfect 14-of-14 in field goal attempts and 10-for-10 in point-after-touchdowns for a total of 52 points. The 52 points scored by Vinatieri in November represents the highest point total of any four-game stretch in his career. He currently leads the NFL in points scored with 112 and is on pace to score a career-high 163 points this season.
]()Vinatieri completed his first touchdown pass on a fake field goal attempt in a 40-22 win over St. Louis on Nov. 7, and scored a career-high 17 points and notched his 1,000th career point in a 29-6 win over Buffalo the following week to become the second leading scorer in franchise history.
"This November was a good November," Vinatieri said. "We had touchdown pass in there, and some field goals. It was a good month. I think we won all of our games in November too, so it was a good month for our team."
Vinatieri is only the second player in NFL history to post 100 or more points in each of his first nine seasons, joining Denver's Jason Elam. He has been named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month on two other occassions, with the most recent coming in September of 1999.
One player who might hold a special appreciation for Vinatieri is Cleveland kicker Phil Dawson, who will line up across form Vinatieri on Sunday. As a rookie, Dawson spent the 1998 season on the Patriots practice squad as the Patriots kept insurance when Vinatieri was bothered by a groin injury. Dawson spent the year observing Vinatieri, and when the Patriots matched a free agent offer by Cleveland for Vinatieri, it opened the door for Dawson to win the kicking duties in Browns' training camp before the 1999 season.
"First of all he is an extremely hard worker," Dawson said. "I know that is kind of funny and everybody [laughs] about a kicker working hard, but Adam definitely took his job seriously and every day came in and put in a lot of work. I am not surprised because hard work does pay off and then he is a competitor and, obviously, whenever there has been a big kick that the Patriots have needed to have made, he has stepped forward and made that kick."
When all is said and done, Dawson believes that Vinatieri will deserve consideration for the Hall of Fame.
"There is no doubt in my mind," Dawson said. "I am someone who has a unique perspective in that I have to kick in similar situations. Obviously the two Super Bowl kicks and just being as consistent as he has been and he still has plenty of years left on him. And to be able to kick off with all the rules changes in terms of the K-ball and moving the kickoff spot back to the thirty and reducing the kickoff tee from the three-inch down to a one-inch. To see how he has gone with the flow with all those rules changes, I just think he is the complete player and if you respect the skill involved that it takes to kick a football, I think he deserves that consideration."
Word out of Cleveland is that it is becoming increasingly likely as the week progresses that rookie Luke McCown will be the Browns starting quarterback Sunday against the Patriots. With Jeff Garcia sidelined by an injured shoulder and replacement Kelly Holcomb suffering cracked ribs last week against Cincinnati, McCown took all of the first team reps Wednesday in preparation of what may be his first NFL start. Both Garcia and Holcomb are listed as questionable on Thursday's injury report, although Garcia did not miss any of practice.
"We'll prepare for all three of them," head coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll watch film on all three of them and the plays that they run. To a degree, they're probably going to run pretty close to the same play no matter who's in there."
McCown, the Browns' fourth-round draft pick, was solid during the preseason but has attempted one pass during the regular season.
"All these quarterbacks are capable of making plays, we're not taking anyone lightly," Rodney Harrison said. "You can't get caught up in who is going to play. [McCown] could come out and have the best game of his life against us, or he could come out and have the worst game of his life. We have to focus on us."
The Patriots reported no changes to the injury report Thursday. Cornerback Ty Law (foot) is out, while cornerback Tyrone Poole (knee) remains doubtful. Linebacker Roman Phifer (calf), cornerback Asante Samuel (shoulder) and linebacker Mike Vrabel (foot) are listed as questionable. The team reported that all of the above players missed a portion of team practice Thursday.
Cornerback Randall Gay (arm) and quarterbacks Tom Brady (shoulder) and Jim Miller (shoulder) are all listed as probable.
The November weather conditions in Sunday's 24-3 win over Baltimore took their tool on the turf at Gillette Stadium. With constant wind and rain during the day and throughout the game, the middle of the field was predominantly mud by the end of the game. The stadium grounds crew took steps towards fixing the problems this week by replacing portions of the turf.
"It got torn up pretty good in the Baltimore game," Belichick said. "It probably needs to be addressed, it was a pretty rough day out there Sunday. I just try and coach the team. I don't have time to pull weeds. The condition of the field is important; I'm not saying that. Believe me, I have plenty of other stuff to do."
Belichick updated the progress of rookie defensive linemen Vince Wilfork, who has started six games this season and seen action at both end and nose tackle. "It has been steady since day one. It's been consistent. Usually the next day is better than the one before. Vince doesn't repeat errors. Usually, once he gets it he gets it. You don't have to keep going back over it every week." ... The Browns placed wide receiver Andre Davis on the injured reserve list Wednesday. ... Belichick appears satisfied with the play of the offensive line, which has allowed 19 sacks through 11 games this season. "I think it has been solid and could be better. I think those guys do a good job. I think [offensive line coach] Dante [Scarnecchia] does a great job with the group and getting them ready to play and playing with some consistency and fundamentally playing well. That is a big part of the offensive line play is just good fundamentals, good techniques. Doing the right things consistently over and over again gives you the best chance."