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Goal on field was to get close

Vinatieri agreed with coach's call

LANDOVER, Md. -- This looked like a job for Superman.

The Patriots, trailing by 3, faced fourth and 3 from Washington's 38-yard line with 43 seconds to go. From there it would have been roughly a 55-yard field goal attempt for "Automatic" Adam Vinatieri, he of the tying kick through a blizzard and championship-winning boot with the world watching.

But instead of trotting out Vinatieri, Bill Belichick elected to go for it, and Tom Brady's pass intended for Daniel Graham fell incomplete, leaving Vinatieri waiting in the phone booth. The Patriots lost, 20-17.

Guess even Superman has his limits. Before the game the Patriots had set them at "54-ish" for the south end zone at FedEx Field and "a little shorter" for the north end zone because of a slightly stronger wind gust (at game time, the wind was blowing southwest at 13 miles per hour).

"It would have been on the outskirts," Vinatieri said. "You know, hindsight's 20/20."

On third and 5 from the Redskins' 40, the Patriots called a draw to Larry Centers, who picked up 2. It looked as though they were trying to get into better position for Vinatieri, but Belichick said the play was designed to pick up the first down.

"That's a tough play. If it works, it's a great call. If it doesn't, it doesn't look so hot," Centers said. "We've made that first down on a draw a couple of times this year. We went to the well maybe once too many."

Instead of calling timeout and calling on Mr. Fix-it to get them out of a another jam (Vinatieri came in 8 for 13 in attempts from 50 and beyond), the Patriots went no huddle and Brady went to Graham. Incomplete. Game over.

"We thought we could pick up fourth and 3," Belichick said.

Mr. Cool didn't sound as though he were too hot on the idea of trying one from that far.

"Not to say you couldn't try it and not to say you couldn't hit it, but it would have been a pretty tough kick," Vinatieri said.

Vinatieri's career long is 57 yards, set last Nov. 10 against the Bears at Champaign, Ill. He said he's connected from "the low 60s" in warmups. During warmups, based on wind and field conditions ("a nonfactor," Vinatieri said), the kicker and the coaches usually come to an agreement on what's reasonable.

Vinatieri, publicly at least, agreed with Belichick's call not to call on him.

"That was one of those where we thought, you know, fourth and 3, you get it and you still have 45 seconds," the kicker said. "Maybe you can make a big play, score a touchdown, and win."

Vinatieri had difficulty on a couple of kicks in the Patriots' exhibition here last month. In the third quarter of yesterday's game, he missed a 46-yarder wide left that would have trimmed Washington's lead to 13-6. It was Vinatieri's first miss this season and just his fourth since the start of last season. "I hit it hard, but I just pulled it left," he explained.

The miss didn't factor into his not coming to the rescue.

"Going into it, [55 yards] was pushing it a little too far," Vinatieri said. "If you need to have it, you have to have it, if it was tied up at that point, maybe it's a different story.

"If it would have been fourth and 12, I guarantee we would have kicked it."

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