Patriots

Gostkowski credits 'faith in the process' after bounce-back game vs. Rams

Gostkowski credits 'faith in the process' after bounce-back game vs. Rams

FOXBORO -- With four games remaining on the schedule, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has reached career-highs that he wishes he hasn't: Four missed field goals, three missed extra points. In Weeks 11 and 12, he missed one of each. 

But after making all six of his kicks in Sunday's 26-10 win over the Rams, Gostkowski called his latest performance "a start," as in a step in the right direction. 

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

"Every week is a different challenge," he said. "You just gotta battle. Keep your head down, stay humble, show up and control your attitude and your effort, make sure both of those are good, and have faith in the process that what you've been doing is going to continue to work."

Gostkowski drilled both of his extra-point attempts in the first half, and when the Patriots offense stalled later in the game -- it finished 4-for-16 on third down -- he bailed it out with his right foot. 

He made a 48-yarder from the right hash, a 45-yarder from the left hash and a 45-yarder from the right hash on consecutive series that stretched from the third quarter and into the fourth. It was a series that all but put to rest questions about whether or not the placement of the football and his angle into kicks was giving him trouble of late.

Against the 49ers, after missing a point-after attempt, he moved all of his extra-point attempts from the middle of the field to the inside of the left hash. Against the Jets his lone miss came from the right hash.

Gostkowski acknowledged that he's been tinkering in recent weeks, but he explained that it's something he's done since joining the Patriots.

"You fine tune every week," he said. "When you play in New England, you could have cold weather, hot weather, windy weather, snow. It's a daily change out there. It's not a climate controled environment. You're fine-tuning every day . . . You're going to go through that during a long season. It's no different than any other season I've had." 

When asked if it was safe to assume that his confidence had waivered at points this season, the 11-year veteran indicated that it wasn't so much a confidence issue as it was a perfectionist's approach that led to frustration when the misses mounted.

"In athletics, I've gone through ups and downs my whole life," he said. "I've always had my confidence when it comes to athletics. Sometimes stubborn to a fault. As long as I'm out there, running out there and getting a chance to play, I expect to do well. No one's harder on themselves than me when I do bad, and I don't plan on changing anytime soon."

With Rob Gronkowski out for the season, the margin for error for everyone on the Patriots has shrunk. That doesn't exclude Gronkowski's teammates in the kicking game, and Gostkowski in particular, who will be depended upon to convert drives stopped short into points. Sunday's outing was a reminder of what Gostkowski can do, and an indication that as his team comes down the stretch of the regular season, he's getting right.  

"Every year's different challenges, different opportunities," he said. "You're only as good as your opportunities in this game. You're lucky to get some good opportunities. You don't get a lot of second chances. That's just part of the job. You know that going in. It's a mental and physical grind week in and week out to do well. I'm not going to change the way that I am competitively win, lose or draw."

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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