Kicker says Pats 'ripe for the picking'

Updated: January 14, 2005, 4:38 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Mike Vanderjagt's mouth is still causing trouble, even though he's criticizing his opponents and not his coach and quarterback.

Mike Vanderjagt
Kicker
Indianapolis Colts
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
FG Att PAT Att Pts Long
20 25 59 60 119 47

On Tuesday, New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison fired back at the Indianapolis kicker.

"He has to be a jerk, Vanderjerk," Harrison said.

Many of Harrison's teammates brushed off Vanderjagt's remark, made shortly after Indianapolis dominated Denver 49-24 in the first round of the AFC playoffs. Speaking about the Patriots, he said "I think they're ripe for the picking" in Sunday's playoff matchup with the Colts.

Vanderjagt also said on WISH-TV in Indianapolis that, "I think they're not as good as the beginning of the year and not as good as last year."

Those comments stirred little controversy in Indianapolis, where his outspoken nature is well known. That's a sharp contrast to his comments two years ago when he said after the Super Bowl that Peyton Manning should show more emotion and coach Tony Dungy is too mild-mannered to be effective.

Manning then called Vanderjagt an "idiot kicker" and Dungy said Vanderjagt should have come to him with his complaints instead of airing them on a Canadian cable television show. Manning and Vanderjagt later apologized to each other and Vanderjagt met with Dungy.

Now Vanderjagt has provided material that coach Bill Belichick might use to provide extra motivation for a team seeking its third Super Bowl title in four years.

"Have I ever done it?" he said with a tiny smile. "Yeah, probably I have."

But quarterback Tom Brady didn't think Vanderjagt's words carried much weight.

"I mean he's just talking, you know? It's a kicker talking," Brady said. "Whether one guy says something or not, a team that's won two Super Bowls in three years and has established the type of reputation for playing hard and winning football games, I mean it kind of speaks for itself.

"I don't think we ever make comments that teams are ripe for the picking or plucking," he said. "I really think we have enough motivation at this point."

Vanderjagt indicated on a radio interview during the season that he may not be back with the Colts next year. His cap number is around $2.8 million and he told the radio station he might kick in the CFL where he started his pro career in 1993.

"That's great for Vanderjagt," said Pats linebacker Willie McGinest, who has made big, game-altering plays in each of New England's last three victories over the Colts. "Hopefully, he makes it the next time."

The last reference was a reminder that, in this year's regular-season opener, Vanderjagt missed a potential game-tying field goal in the final seconds.

Instead, his NFL record streak of 42 consecutive successful field-goal attempts ended and the Patriots won 27-24.

"He should focus on making the field goals, not worried about what we're doing over here, OK?" Harrison said. "I mean, he has to be a jerk, Vanderjerk, if he sits there and criticizes Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy, one of the best quarterbacks in the game and one of the best coaches in the game. And then for him to put his foot in his mouth again just shows what type of character he has."

Vanderjagt made 20 of 25 field goals this season after going 37-for-37 last year. The 20 field goals are the fewest of his seven-year career, but he had the fewest opportunities with Manning throwing 49 touchdown passes for an offense that scored 61 touchdowns, nearly four per game.

New England's Adam Vinatieri went 31-for-33.

"You won't catch me (making such remarks). I try to just do my job on the field and I guess it's better to not be heard, or seen maybe," Vinatieri said. "He's as much a member of the team as anybody so I guess it's his right to say what he feels and thinks. But, like I said, I don't know what he said, so it's no big deal."

Punter Josh Miller, another Patriot who takes the field only when a drive falls short, understood why Vanderjagt might have spoken out.

"People do funny things when there's a microphone in front of them. They really say what's on their mind. I would never do that," Miller said.

But would he have rushed to cover Vanderjagt's mouth if they were teammates?

"I wouldn't have to. Someone else would have beaten me to that one," he said.

McGinest said that Vanderjagt's comments probably will not have much bearing on this weekend's game, but hinted he felt they were ill-timed.

"If Vanderjagt feels confident enough to guarantee victory, that's great," said the Pats veteran linebacker. "Great for him. But [because he's a kicker] there's going to be a whole bunch of plays when he's not going to be out there [on the field]. The rest of his guys will be out there dealing with it."

ESPN.com senior writer Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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