The Patriots will see a familiar face this Sunday in Gillette Stadium as former kicker Adam Vinatieri returns as a member of the undefeated Indianapolis Colts. As a Patriot, Vinatieri kicked two last-minute game-winning field goals in Super Bowls, two game-winners in divisional playoff rounds and a record-tying five field goals in the 2003 AFC Championship Game. It seems fair to say that Patriots fans wouldn't like to see this game come down to a field goal attempt by Vinatieri, however the Pats players know this is just another regular season game in a very long regular season.
In his Wednesday press conference, Coach Bill Belichick was asked how he'd feel if the game came down to a Vinatieri field goal. He voiced assurance that the Patriots will be prepared for this game.
"Whatever we need to do to win the game, that's what we're going to prepare to do," said Belichick. "I can't tell you what the situation is going to be at the end of the game. I have no idea. We'll prepare for all of them."
"For us this game is huge. It's the next one on our schedule and I think they're all must-wins around here," said running back Heath Evans, calling the Patriots 21-40 loss to the Colts last season "embarrassing to everyone."
Still, Vinatieri was celebrated for his ability to perform in tough situations while he was with the Patriots. Nobody's forgotten that.
"We want to keep Adam off the field and not put him into those situations to be successful, because the guy is definitely clutch," admitted defensive end Richard Seymour on Wednesday.
In a conference call with the New England media on Wednesday, Vinatieri was asked if he hopes to be able to kick a game-winner at Gillette Stadium this weekend.
"I've thought about that," said Vinatieri. "It'd be fun if it was that way." Obviously, for selfish purposes, I want the Colts to win now. If it's by one point, three points, or if we're lucky enough to be up by a couple touchdowns, it doesn't matter if I'm on the sideline cheering or if I'm part of it at the end."
Vinatieri missed three of the Colts six games earlier this season with a groin injury, but is still tied for fifth in the league in scoring among kickers. He's made all of his kicks so far this year, including 14 field goals, one of which was a 48-yarder last week against the Broncos. Vinatieri, looking like his usual self, also kicked a 37-yarder in the final seconds of that game to beat the Broncos and boost the Colts record to 7-0.
He signed with the Colts as a free agent in the offseason and said he's been looking forward to this game for a while.
"It's one of those weeks that you see on the schedule and you look forward to the opportunity to get back out there. It should be a fun game," said Vinatieri on Wednesday. "It'll be important and special for me."
Vinatieri remains the Patriots all-time leading scorer. He's played in a few big games and is trying to keep this week's regular season matchup in perspective, just like everyone else.
"We don't even have to discuss how big of a game this is," Vinatieri said. "Both teams know how big of a game this is. It's not a playoff game. It's not any of that stuff. Let's not read into it more than what it is.
"It's a game between two divisional leaders and so, obviously, the hype is going to be there. The excitement is going to be there. The team that gets the win – it's definitely going to push them ahead of the other [in the standings] for a while."
Vinatieri went on to speak fondly of his ten years with the Patriots, saying he hoped to get a chance to speak with a number of Pats players and coaches, including his former snapper Lonie Paxton and holder Josh Miller.
"Obviously, the ten years that I spent in New England were great years, great memories," said Vinatieri. "[I have] lots of good friends out there now, on and off the field.
"I've got a huge admiration for coach Belichick and the entire New England Patriot team. They're obviously playing at the top of their game this year again, like they always do. So it's going to be a hard game and we're going to have to play extremely well to have an opportunity to have a chance to win at the end and hopefully we can do that."
Brady and Manning go toe-to-toe twice
Before superstar quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning face off in Gillette Stadium on Sunday, they'll compete with each other as well as Falcons QB Michael Vick in a different kind of arena; the three quarterbacks are all finalists for FedEx Express NFL Player of the Week honors for games played in Week 8.
Brady completed 29 of 43 passes against the Vikings for 372 yards and four touchdowns in the victory. Manning completed 32 of 39 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns against the Broncos. And Vick threw three touchdown passes, completing 20 of 28 passes. He also ran for 55 yards.
Fans can vote for one player on NFL.com until 6pm EST on Thursday, or via Sprint or Nextel wireless service.
Comings and Goings
The Patriots signed first-year cornerback James Patrick to their practice squad on Wednesday. Patrick, 24, was originally signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a rookie free agent prior to last season. The 5-foot-11-inch, 185-pound defensive back spent the entire 2005 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad. The Buccaneers released Patrick at the beginning of September. He attended Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he set a school record with 27 interceptions and tied an NCAA single-game record with five interceptions in a game in 2002.
The team released cornerback Chidi Iwuoma on Tuesday. Iwuoma played in three games for the Patriots on special teams coverage units, recording two special teams tackles. He was with the team less than a month.
The team also released rookie center Brian Barthelmes from their practice squad. Barthelmes was originally signed by the Pats as an undrafted rookie free agent last May. He participated in the first three preseason games before being released at the end of August during roster cut-downs. He had only been resigned to the practice squad six days prior to his release.
The Patriots held practice outside today, wearing shorts/sweats, helmets and shells. The only player not seen on the field while the media had access was linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. Reportedly, Banta-Cain's son, was born a few hours before kickoff on Monday night. … The Patriots released Wednesday's injury report, which includes 18 players. Brady is listed as probable, while the other 17 are listed as questionable.