INDIANAPOLIS – Malik Hooker was born five months before Adam Vinatieri made his NFL debut in 1996.
He grew up in New Castle, Pa., cheering for the Indianapolis Colts and their clutch kicker. So to be on the sideline for another game-winner Sunday – during Vinatieri’s 200th career game, no less – was special for the third-year safety.
“To me, I don’t care if Adam misses 30 field goals, man,” Hooker said. “I know when that game’s on the line, it’s going in. I think like that every time Adam goes out there ’cause I think that highly of him. He’s a role model to me ’cause I was a Colts fan growing up.
“Just to be able to witness this greatness that he’s giving us every day, playing another game, adding on to his franchise record of playing so many games, it’s just special to me. I’m glad to be a part of it and on this journey with him.”
Hooker’s confidence likely wasn’t shared by many in the crowd of 61,653 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The 46-year-old kicker’s early season struggles reared their ugly head again against the Denver Broncos.
Please see the rest of this story on our website.
He missed a 45-yard field goal badly to the right on the opening drive, and his missed extra point with 2:26 remaining in the third quarter kept the visitors in front 13-12.
Still, Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich never hesitated to put the game on Vinatieri’s foot in the final moments.
With a first down at Denver’s 34-yard line, Reich called a naked bootleg for quarterback Jacoby Brissett followed by a pair of runs up the middle to set up the 51-yard attempt with 22 seconds remaining.
As the fans in the stadium and at home watching on TV gasped in anticipation, the Colts’ sideline was calm.
As punter Rigoberto Sanchez walked out to hold the kick, there was no doubt in his mind what the outcome would be.
“We knew Vinny was gonna make it,” he said. “It’s hard to say we, for sure, knew, but it’s just one of those things. We all trust him.”
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has watched Vinatieri’s heroics up close for the past eight years.
He knew if the offense could just stay in the game, the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history could win it.
And his faith was rewarded.
“It was tough, but we just stayed in it,” Hilton said. “Defense kept us in the game. Our job was to go down there and get in field-goal range and try to score, and AV did what he always does.”
Vinatieri attempted to downplay the moment as he typically does.
It was the 26th game-winning kick of his Hall of Fame career, and he approached it just like any other.
But even Vinatieri had to admit coming at the end of his 200th game made the kick unique.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “That’s a pretty big milestone, and I guess there’s not a better way to cap that off. It’s been a huge honor to play for this many years for such a great organization, and these guys in this locker room never cease to amaze me on their fight and determination.”
Defensive end Ben Banogu put an exclamation point on the victory when he sacked Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco with 17 seconds remaining.
The hit caused a fumble recovered by running back Royce Freeman, but Denver couldn’t get back into position for another snap before time ran out.
It was the first full sack of Banogu’s career and came after the rookie out of TCU refused to give up on the play. He chased a scrambling Flacco for several yards before hitting the quarterback from the blind side.
“He played a great game,” linebacker Anthony Walker said. “That was a huge play at the end, and I think Coach (Reich) said late (in the) third quarter, early fourth, ‘A sack-fumble’s gonna win this game.’ And that just happened to come true. That was a great play by him.”
It was a long afternoon for rookie cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.
With Pierre Desir (hamstring) and Quincy Wilson (healthy scratch) inactive, Ya-Sin often found himself matched against Denver’s top receiver – Courtland Sutton.
He surrendered three catches for 72 yards but also drew five penalties. Four of them led to first downs for the Broncos.
Hooker talked to Ya-Sin during the game and essentially told him to keep his head up.
“I felt like he was in pretty good coverage the majority of the game,” Hooker said. “I mean, hey, (Sutton) gets paid, too, on the other side of the ball. You’ve gotta win your matchup.
“It’s the NFL. Everybody’s good. You win some, you lose some. But you get another week next week to go out there and prove yourself again.”