FOXBOROUGH -- Adam Vinatieri is so important to the team that linebacker Rosevelt Colvin forgot to include himself when asked whom among the Patriots he would draft if he were putting together a team.
Colvin would begin with quarterback Tom Brady. Next, he would take Vinatieri.
Why? Because Vinatieri is recognized by many as having the game's best foot in the clutch. Sunday's 29-yard game-winning field goal against Atlanta was as close to a certain make as a last-minute kick can be.
The 10-year veteran has made more game-winning field goals than any other kicker in the NFL, and he hasn't missed a kick that would have meant victory since he misfired on a 32-yarder with nine seconds remaining at Kansas City on Oct. 10, 1999.
Actually, that was not simply the last time he missed a game-winning try, it is the only time he has missed one. Vinatieri is 19 of 20 in such situations.
''Leave it up to him, and he comes through perfect every time," said receiver Deion Branch, who is in his fourth season and thus has yet to see Vinatieri miss a game-winning kick.
In fact, only three current Patriots -- Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk, and Willie McGinest -- have witnessed Vinatieri failing to come through. Two-thirds of the players on the roster were not even in the league the last time it happened.
They have grown to expect perfection from Vinatieri.
''When you stand out there and watch him in practice, they all pretty much go through," said coach Bill Belichick. ''It's not like me standing on the first tee where you have one in the woods, one in the water, one out of bounds, and then one in the fairway.
''With him, pretty much all of his balls, he hits them straight. They don't drift. He's a good technique kicker."
Belichick exaggerates a bit.
''I hit a lousy kick every once in a while," Vinatieri said.
But not when victory is at hand. And victory has been at hand -- or at foot -- more often for Vinatieri than for any other kicker in the league. His 19 game-winners, including two this season, lead all active kickers.
Denver's Jason Elam is second with 17, ahead of Detroit's Jason Hansen (14) and the 49ers' Joe Nedney (12). Miami's Olindo Mare and Indianapolis's Mike Vanderjagt have 11 each.
With just one more game-winner this season, Vinatieri will have an average of two per season, including two in Super Bowls. Nedney's 1.33 winners per season ranks second.
''I've been in the opportunity a lot of times just because our team has been so successful giving ourselves a chance to win," Vinatieri said.
Talent and hard work may make Vinatieri a top-notch kicker, but the Patriots' tendency to be involved in close games makes him the most valuable in the league.
Tom Brady is 21-2 in games decided by 6 points or fewer; Vinatieri kicked the game-winner in 11 of those victories.
''It's funny, a lot of people have always said the New England Patriots win a lot of games and they're always close, for one reason or another," Vinatieri said. ''I don't know why that is. But I think everybody is important at that point.
''The defense, to be able to make a big stop to keep us in the game, or the offense -- Tom Brady, the receivers, Corey [Dillon] and the offensive line -- to be able to run that two-minute drill so well. Every person on our team is equally important and you can't have a weak link in any of those.
''I don't know if I'm any more important than any of the other guys that have to do their job to give me that opportunity."
That certainly isn't what his agent is saying in contract negotiations.
Vinatieri has been tagged as the Patriots' franchise player the past two seasons, meaning he is playing on a one-year contract. Vinatieri's $2.5 million pay for this season is the highest base salary among kickers, but he would have preferred to ink a long-term deal -- which surely would include a hefty signing bonus.
''Obviously, every player is trying to do whatever they can to help the team out, and when the team is successful, then each player reaps the rewards from that," Vinatieri said. ''I love this team, the guys on the team, and everything about it is great.
''It's one of those things that's got to be good for them and it's got to be good for me, and hopefully we can get something done.
''But I'm not thinking about that right now. If we go the whole season and we don't talk about it or get anything done, then we'll deal with it after the season. Right now, I'm just trying to get a win against Denver.
''I let my agent take care of all the other stuff and have him call me if something good gets done. Otherwise it's all about football."
Jerome Solomon's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org