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Breaking down the best plays

'The Kick,' and the tops in recent NFL history

Posted: Friday February 4, 2005 12:47PM; Updated: Friday February 4, 2005 4:47PM
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Adam Vinatieri
Without Adam Vinatieri's game-tying field goal against Oakland in the 2001 playoffs, there may have been no Patriots dynasty.
Al Bello/Getty Images

He came walking down the hallway, conveniently, in the middle of a debate about his most momentous athletic feat. Adam Vinatieri, the man whose last-second field goals have won two Super Bowls for the New England Patriots, entered a conversation at the team hotel in St. Augustine, Fla., Thursday morning which, remarkably, concerned two of his kicks that may have been more impressive.

"Adam, which was your best kick -- the one in the Snow Bowl or the one against Tennessee?" Patriots coach Bill Belichick asked his kicker.

The smooth South Dakotan considered the question and smiled. "I would say that given the implications, the Snow Bowl kick was the best," Vinatieri said, recalling his 45-yard masterpiece that sent the Patriots' 2001 divisional playoff game with the Raiders into overtime. "Physically, it was definitely the toughest. There were five inches of snow on the ground, and I don't have much experience -- hell, nobody does -- kicking in those kind of conditions. Then, when you consider what was on the line, that if I missed that kick our season was over, I'd have to say that was the one."

Belichick ultimately agreed, but he retains a soft spot for the field goal Vinatieri made against the Titans in last year's divisional round -- a game that, in retrospect, may have been a showdown between the two best teams of 2003. In frigid Foxboro (the wind chill was 11 below zero at Gillette Stadium), Vinatieri nailed a game-winning 46-yard field goal with 4:06 remaining for a 17-14 New England victory.

"I mean, that was one tough kick," Belichick said. "It was freezing out, the field had just been re-sodded, the wind was blowing and he slammed it through."

"Yeah," Vinatieri said, "but who knows what would have happened if I'd missed? There was still a lot of football left to play."

One thing about which there is no debate is this: If your life depended on a field goal, no matter the situation, Vinatieri is the man you'd ask to kick it. Like Tom Brady, he is not necessarily perfect all the time -- few remember that Vinatieri missed one field goal and had another blocked in the first half of last year's Super Bowl -- but he has always been pretty damned-near perfect when it counts most.

Twice, he has broken ties to trigger the tossing of confetti. Three years ago, Vinatieri's 48-yarder gave New England a last-second Super Bowl triumph over the Rams; last year, his 41-yarder vanquished the Panthers. But were it not for the greatest kick of all, the one so gnarly it got lost in the snow before it magically cleared the Foxboro Stadium goalposts to send that Raiders game into overtime, it's possible that none of the subsequent heroics would have happened.

Sure, it was the infamous "Tuck Rule" replay reversal that gave the Pats new life against the Raiders. But the most dramatic moment occurred a few minutes later. When Vinatieri lined up for that 45-yarder on the slick, white-capped field, what were the odds of the Pats launching a potential dynasty? Planting his left leg was a major unknown; generating enough power to get the ball that far in blizzard conditions seemed especially dubious.

Even the 28-yarder he ultimately made to win that game was far from a sure thing. But again, the fact that he got to attempt it in the first place was remarkable.

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