FOXBORO -- The Patriots have been an anomaly in this league for a long time. Coach, quarterback and. . . kicker. Whereas other teams change those positions with so much regularity it’s hard to know the players and coaches without a scorecard. The Pats have had Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and either Adam Vinateiri or Steven Gostkowski since 2001. That’s absurd. But while Belichick and Brady remain at the top of their professions, life has been a little more difficult for Gostkowski.
The Pats kicker since 2006, Gostkowski has seen his share of uneven performances, dating back to the 2nd half of the 2015 season - a season that ended in Denver in the AFC Championship Game. That game was defined - in part - by Gostkowski missing an extra point, forcing the Pats to chase points late that afternoon. That set off an odd season in 2016. 8 misses overall, 5 on field goals and 3 more on extra points. That’s not to say Gostkowski isn’t still as close to automatic as you get in this league. It’ s just to say he’s not infallible.
His pair of misses in Sunday’s 21-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers made a game that shouldn’t have been as close as it was come down to the final play.
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“Anytime I miss I have a bad taste in my mouth," Gostkowski said. “I’m glad we won. Things don’t always go perfect. I get upset and ticked off like anyone else but I’m not a moper or Debbie Downer. If you play long enough, they’ll be situations you’ll be put in. It’s kind of the nature of kicking. A lot of ups and downs. I just gotta maintain a positive attitude and keep my poise.”
Gostkowski did just that, rebounding from his 2nd miss to knock home a 26-yarder with just over a minute to play, and ended the day with four makes in six tries. But it’s those two misses that will stick with him much longer.
“It will stay with me this week, probably for two weeks until we play again (Sunday November 12th in Denver).”
Gostkowski’s first miss came on the opening drive of the 2nd half. Dion Lewis had made the Chargers pay for an offsides penalty on the kickoff, returning the re-kick 71 yards to the LA 25. The Pats offense couldn’t make the drive go anywhere and Gostkowski compounded the blown opportunity by mishitting a 43-yard attempt that went wide left.
The 33-year-old missed another 43-yarder early in the 4th quarter. The Pats embarked on a 16-play odyssey lasting nearly 8 minutes but when the drive stalled it was Gostkowski who elicited groans from the soggy crowd, starting his kick right and staying right of the left upright for his second miss. Gostkowski had been 16-of-17 on field goal attempts prior to the day.
“I aimed right down the middle on that one,” he said of his second miss. “It got pushed a little bit. The first one that I missed to the left, I didn’t get good rotation. The second one, I thought I hit pretty good but sometimes that happens.
“The first one that was a tough, not my best kick. I thought the second one I kicked, I put a good swing on it, maybe kicked it a little too hard into the wind. Sometimes you get a lot of spin on the ball and the wind is going to fight it more so you gotta hit a ball that has a little less rotation on it so it cuts through the wind a little better.”
I asked Gostkowski to follow up. Something about needing a “Kicking for Dummies” tutorial. What did he mean by rotation on the first kick, which was clearly wrong the moment it left his foot?
“You want the ball to be end over end and the wind was blowing to the right so I played it a little bit to the left and the rotation was left. Does that make sense?,” he asked as he explained. “Kind of a wobble - like a bow tie - and the wind is not going to take it. The wind will take it if there’s good rotation. That was a bad contact by me. If I had hit an over end rotation on that first one I missed I think that would have been a true kick. I just kind of hit it off my ankle.”
As for the wobble, in kicker-speak, Gostkowski explained it thusly, “the weight of the ball, I don’t want to get too in detail about the weight, but if all the momentum is going to the left like a weird rotation, it’s probably going to stay left. The wind was blowing to the right on that one I didn’t get the good - the right rotation. I hit it where I wanted to play it. I just didn’t have the right rotation and that’s most of the battle. When the conditions are tough you have to pretty much spot on perfect and that definitely wasn’t where I was at today.”
Gostkowski didn’t let the questions get to him, nor did he blame the elements. He put it on himself, and it’s that accountable - along with his accuracy - that has long made Gostkowski a favorite in that locker room and with the coach too. This was one of those days, but despite cries for competition, given his track record, it seems unlikely - even after a bad day at the office.
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