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INDIANAPOLIS – The stands at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night were two-thirds empty by the time Pat McAfee's moment came.
It wasn't big in the proverbial big picture, not if you compare it to the NFL regular season and playoffs where the money moments reside. This was preseason, and if the New York Giants came back and beat the Indianapolis Colts 27-26 after trailing 26-0, which they did, it wouldn't matter all that much five minutes later. Preseason is, stripped to the basics, practice.
McAfee didn't see it that way.
McAfee had a chance to win the game with a 64-yard field goal, and he missed it. And that put the fun-loving punter in a rare sour mood. His public persona aside, McAfee is just as much of a competitor as any other player.
“This is kind of what I've been waiting for – not waiting for this – but excited for this opportunity for a long time,” McAfee said. “Griff (Whalen, the holder) and I didn't get any warmups at halftime, but we were playing with 100 percent confidence. (The coaches) said, 'You're going to get a long shot.' I said, 'Let's do the damn thing.'
“I'm so disappointed I didn't hit it. I should have, for my teammates and for the fans.”
McAfee was dead serious about his disappointment and discouragement with the miss, which failed when the football veered wide left at the end of its flight. McAfee's day job is being the Colts' punter, of course, and he's great at it. He averaged 48.2 yards per punt on six punts Saturday, placing three punts inside the 20-yard line. He's also the holder for the great field-goal kicker Adam Vinatieri and, he hopes, his eventual successor.
McAfee longs to kick field goals and he's shown the power of his leg during practice with kicks over 70 yards. His range, he says, is “forever.”
“I'm very lucky to have a strong leg, and I just have to make those kicks when they pop up,” McAfee said.
A 64-yard field goal, preseason or not, would be an incredible feat. It just so happens to be the NFL record, set by the Denver Broncos' Matt Prater in 2013. Four kickers have hit 63 yarders in a regular-season game.
The Colts had reached the point of needing a 64-yard game-winner due to some unfortunate sputtering in the fourth quarter. The Colts' starters who played looked sharp, building a 20-0 halftime lead. Andrew Luck and the offense, particularly receiver Hakeem Nicks, found holes in the Giants' defense while the Colts defense harassed Giants quarterback Eli Manning (1-for-7 passing for six yards) without relenting.
But, eventually, as the game turned to players who aren't likely to be part of the final 53-man Colts roster, the lead slipped away. A fumble for a Giants touchdown hurt and while third-string quarterback Chandler Harnish directed two field-goal drives, he was sacked three times and the offense couldn't generate that one knockout scoring drive.
After the Giants drove 86 yards on nine plays and scored on a four-yard pass from Ryan Nassib to Corey Washington with 55 seconds left, the Colts had one last chance to steal back the win.
Harnish completed four passes but missed on a deep ball to Tony Washington with 10 seconds left.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano called on McAfee for the 64-yarder.
Off the field, McAfee is one of the Colts' most fan-friendly players, regularly interacting as “PatMcAfeeShow” on Twitter and being a very approachable celebrity in the Indianapolis community. His sense of humor is one of his more well-known traits. He calls his leg the "boomstick."
Sometimes that persona threatens to overshadow his quality play on the field. Between the lines, he takes his job as serious as anyone.
He approached the 64-yard field goal in an otherwise meaningless preseason game with a big-game, big-play mentality.
“Griff Whalen was excited to go out there and (snapper) Matt Overton was excited,” McAfee said. “Everyone on that sideline had 100 percent confidence, including myself. Next time, I gotta make it.”
McAfee said he had a three-quarters swing on the ball.
“I knew it was going to draw, but I didn't play the draw enough,” he said. “It's like a golfer, whenever you have a draw and you don't play the draw enough, that's kind of the way it works. I thought it was in, and then I saw it start to fade. I've got to adjust it for next time.
“But I am furious it didn't go in.”
A second after McAfee said that, Pagano walked by his locker.
“My fault, man,” McAfee said to Pagano.
The coach turned back and deflected the regret. "You're gonna hit a game-winner for us," Pagano told him.
The moment will no doubt be big when that happens. McAfee will be all business in attacking it.