Vanderjagt, whose offseason comments in an interview irked his coach, quarterback and teammates, booted a 45-yard field goal with 1 second left Sunday, leading the Colts to a sloppy 9-6 win over the Cleveland Browns.
“I’m one of the boys on the team, not some idiot kicker,” Vanderjagt said.
Shortly after the Colts lost in the playoffs last season, Vanderjagt said Colts coach Tony Dungy was too nice, quarterback Peyton Manning needed to show more emotion and other Colts players lacked passion.
The normally reserved Manning responded at the Pro Bowl by calling Vanderjagt, “an idiot.”
And although he had been publicly forgiven, Vanderjagt’s game-winning kick probably didn’t hurt his popularity with Manning or the other Colts.
“Everything is fine and dandy between me and Mike in Coltsville,” Manning said.
Manning, who threw two interceptions in the first half and wasn’t sharp for most of the afternoon, drove the Colts 65 yards in the final 2:39 to set up Vanderjagt’s third field goal.
“Mike and I did that on purpose to win it like that,” Manning joked. “Seriously, and we haven’t been lying to you, it has been a closed book on the topic since February.”
Vanderjagt’s winning kick ended what many figured to be a shootout between two of the AFC’s best offenses. Instead, it was an error-filled matchup of penalties, turnovers and blown chances.
“If you would have told me this would be 9-6 game, I would have said you were crazy,” said Browns quarterback Kelly Holcomb, who twice had Cleveland inside the 10-yard line but couldn’t get a touchdown. “That’s what caused us to lose.”
Manning, who finished 27-of-43 for 211 yards, threw two interceptions—one in the end zone—in the first half.
But on Colts’ game-winning drive, he went 8-for-10 while using five receivers. A year ago, Manning rallied the Colts from a 16-0 halftime deficit to beat the Browns 28-23.
“Look at that last drive,” running back Edgerrin James said. “No mistakes. No penalties. That’s the key. It came together at the right time.”
After Indianapolis forced a punt, Manning took over at his own 8-yard line. He completed three passes for 26 yards to get the Colts out of the shadow of their end zone, and zipped a 15-yard pass to Reggie Wayne on a crucial third-and-10.
“I live for plays like that, to get my number called,” Wayne said. “Peyton put the ball right there. Simple as that.”
Manning then completed four straight passes to get the Colts to the Browns 25 with 6 seconds left. The Browns, who played in 12 games decided by eight points or less a year ago, called a timeout to try and ice Vanderjagt, who entered the season as the NFL’s most accurate kicker.
But Vanderjagt drilled his game-winner, the seventh time in his career he has won a game with a kick in the final 15 seconds. Earlier, he kicked field goals from 22 and 46 yards.
Vanderjagt acknowledged being nervous before the game, partly because of his infamous comments.
“It feels good personally,” he said. “I can’t do much more than make kicks and apologize for what happened. I have to reassure everybody that there is absolutely no problem.”
Phil Dawson kicked two field goals for the Browns, who dropped to 0-5 in season openers since 1999. They’ve lost three straight home openers on last-second field goals.
“It’s heartbreaking,” safety Earl Little said, “but we have 15 games left.”
Holcomb, who beat out Tim Couch to be Cleveland’s starter, finished 20-of-29 for 182 yards, but threw two interceptions in the first half and seemed reluctant to throw anything deep after halftime.
William Green rushed for 86 yards for Cleveland, which wore orange pants for the first time since 1983.
The Browns had five cracks inside the 10-yard line in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get in as Dawson’s 20-yard field goal with 8:50 left tied it at 6.
“All the mistakes we made, jumping offsides, holding, throwinginterceptions in the red zone, that was the deciding factor,” Holcomb said.
Marvin Harrison, who destroyed the Browns last season, had nine catches for 44 yards. He has caught a pass in 109 straight games. … James finished with 67 yards, leaving him 20 shy of becoming the fifth back in Colts’ history to rush for at least 5,000 yards. … The Browns, who haven’t won a season opener since 1994, hadn’t worn orange pants since Dec. 18, 1983, when they beat Pittsburgh 30-17. … DE Courtney Brown had Cleveland’s lone sack. The formerNo. 1 overall pick had offseason knee surgery.