Gostkowski 'sick' about missed PAT that was key to loss


Gostkowski 'sick' about missed PAT that was key to loss

Stephen Gostkowski is as dependable as it gets when it comes to kicking footballs.

The Patriots kicker led the NFL in scoring for the fourth straight season, finishing with 151 points - his fourth straight 150-plus point season.

His 87.3-percent field goal accuracy is third-best among NFL kickers all-time, too.

And Gostkowski came into Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos game with another impressive statistic: He had hit his last 523 extra points, dating back to 2006.

But that streak ended in the first quarter, with Gostkowski missing an extra point that would have tied the game, 7-7.

Nobody could have thought it would come back to bite the Patriots the way it did, though.

But there New England was down eight points late in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski teamed up for a touchdown with just 12 seconds left the game to trail by two points.

The two-point conversion, however, failed. The Broncos recovered Gostkowski's onside kick, and that was the game.

"I just feel terrible," Gostkowski told reporters after the game. "These guys work a lot, all day, put their bodies and lives on the line. And then come out here and us lose by a point and me miss the kick, it's a nightmare scenario. I can't really explain how I feel right now. It's just kind of shock, and I feel like I let a lot of people down. It's just not a good feeling."

It wasn't a laces-out situation. It wasn't the wind. It was just a fluky missed kicked by one of the game's greats.

"I just didn't hit a good kick. I'm not one to make excuses. I should have made it," Gostkowski said. "I've made hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of those. Sometimes timing is everything. I never would have thought missing a kick in the first quarter would be the difference in the game, but that's why you gotta be good all the time and that wasn't the case for me today."

NFL owners approved the NFL Competition Committee's proposal to move extra points back to the 15-yard line at the start of the 2015-16 season. That turned the extra point into a tougher conversion, as opposed to a virtually automatic one. Still, Gostkowski hadn't missed once this season.

"I'm always upset when I have a bad play. It's part of the job. I feel sorry for myself but I'm not expecting people to feel sorry for me," Gostkowski said. "I work hard to be good, and I came up short today. I let a lot of people down, a lot of guys on the team, a lot of fans. All I can do now is stand up here and take it all on me. I feel like I lost the game for the team. I should have been out there kicking that tying extra point and helping us going into overtime. It's a sickening feeling and I can't put into words. Nothing I can do about it now."

And though Gostkowski, who kicked a 48-yard field goal and 47-yard field goal later in the game, was naturally hard on himself for the missed extra point, his teammates were not putting the blame for the loss on him.

"He's a great player. He's the best, so everyone misses them at some point," Brady told reporters. "There was plenty of football left. We knew what the situation was."

"Stephen does a lot for this team and I'm proud he's part of his organization," Gronkowski told reporters. "I love playing with him and he definitely shouldn't put the heat on him. It's a team game. You win as a team, you lose as a team. It's not just one individual's fault. It's just like I said, Denver just made more plays than us. That's what it came down. But you can't put it in the hands of Steve. There's no way."

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.