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Super Bowl hero's field-goal streak reaches 21

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) _ The only way to stop Adam Vinatieri from making field goals might be to keep him from kicking them.

And that approach doesn't work either because the New England Patriots score touchdowns instead.

The kicker whose field goals won two Super Bowls has failed just once in 29 attempts this season and that came from 47 yards. He hasn't tried one in the last two games, but the Patriots won both _ 42-15 in Cleveland and 35-28 against Cincinnati.

It's nice to be on the field as often as possible,'' Vinatieri said Thursday,And if they're all extra points, I'm happy with that, as long as we're winning.''

It's just not as exciting as when the cool Vinatieri lines up in bright sun or snow-filled gloom, under a roof or a cloudless sky and drives field goals between the uprights in the biggest games.

He's a guy that we count on for a lot of stuff no matter what the temperature is, what the field condition is,'' offensive tackle Matt Light said.It's ridiculous the stuff this guy kicks in and he's unfazed by it.''

In the AFC divisional playoffs against the Oakland Raiders on Jan. 19, 2002, Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal through falling flakes to force overtime and a 23-yarder to win 16-13. Two weeks later, in the Superdome in New Orleans, his 48-yarder on the last play gave the Patriots a 20-17 Super Bowl victory over St. Louis.

In last season's playoffs, he went 5-for-5 in a 24-14 win over Indianapolis, then broke a tie against Tennessee with 4:06 left with a 46-yarder that gave the Patriots a 17-14 win. In the Super Bowl, his 41-yard kick with 4 seconds left gave New England a 32-29 victory over Carolina.

He's come up with some dandies,'' Light said.It doesn't matter really where we are on the field. If they're sending him out there, I feel confident.''

Now the nine-year veteran, whose kickoffs also have improved, feels much better physically after dealing with back problems last season when he went 25-for-34 and 7-for-10 in the postseason.

The difference is night and day,'' he said.The body feels great and I've been having a fairly decent year because of it.''

How about fairly amazing?

Vinatieri made his first seven field-goal attempts before missing on his second kick of the game on Oct. 19 in a 24-10 win over Miami, where New England plays on Monday night.

Since then, he's made 21 straight four short of the team record he set in 1996-97 although none have been game-winners because the Patriots (12-1) have been so dominant. He hasn't tried a field goal since he went 3-for-3 on a rainy Oct. 28 in a 24-3 win over Baltimore but he still leads the NFL in scoring.

He has made some tough kicks,'' New England coach Bill Belichick said.The Baltimore game was a pretty tough kicking situation. We have seen him make them in the past.''

He could start making them again Monday night if the offense stalls. One of them actually might win a game, a feat he's accomplished nine times the past three seasons. Four of them came in the Patriots' six playoff games.

The Dolphins play real good defense, so you never know,'' Vinatieri said.You might be on the field kicking a lot of field goals. So you always have to be prepared. You never know when your time will be called.''

Mike Vanderjagt of Indianapolis went 37-for-37 last season, the best single-season performance in NFL history. Olindo Mare, who will kick for Miami on Monday night, holds the league record of 39 total field goals in a season.

Vinatieri needs a big finish to challenge that.

He's one of the best kickers in the league,'' Patriots tight end Christian Fauria said.Our ideal is not to have him out there that much anyway. We like to score touchdowns.''

But if the Patriots fall short, Vinatieri probably won't.

The confidence level has been pretty good,'' he said.Some years you get five or six game-winners and other times you go a whole year without maybe any. But we still have three games left and the postseason.''

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