Patriots

Gostkowski admits misses leave 'bad taste' despite Patriots win

Gostkowski admits misses leave 'bad taste' despite Patriots win

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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Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.

Brady enjoys 'unique experience' of road trip

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Brady enjoys 'unique experience' of road trip

While being away from home isn’t uncommon for the Patriots - just think about all those Super Bowl trips - Tom Brady believes each excursion takes on its own feel, its own flavor and - eventually - its own meaning.

Back in 2014, the Pats went from playing in Green Bay and losing to the Packers straight to San Diego for a week on the West Coast prior to a rousing victory over the Chargers. That week, many players said in the aftermath, helped propel the team to great heights,.  You’ll recall, that season ended in grand fashion, a triumph in Super Bowl 49 over Seattle, at the time - and maybe still - the greatest Super Bowl ever played.

“I think all these experiences are pretty unique,” Brady said Friday from Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy. “That was a very unique experience. This is different.”

Brady spoke about the number of stops the Pats have and will have to make on this trip - from Denver to Colorado Springs then on to Mexico City Saturday before a Sunday night return to Foxboro and their own beds for the first time in 10 nights.

“When you’re on the road like this, there’s less to do,” he said. “You know my family is not here, my kids aren’t here. There’s nobody telling me what I did wrong in the house. It’s just being at home and now it’s being here and trying to figure out a way to win a game.”

Brady quickly smoothed over any possible ill-will at home - why make Gisele mad? - smiling and saying “I didn’t mean that so I’ll take it back.”

Kidding aside, the 40-year old signal caller seemed pleased with the work the Patriots have put in during this long trip. A week of team-bonding can’t be a bad thing, especially for a group that seems to be hitting it’s stride both on and off the field. There’s the five wins in a row and also a locker room that has a better understanding of one another than it did during the first month of the season. But Brady is not ready to make any grand proclamations. That just wouldn’t be his style.

“I think it’s still work in progress,” he said of team chemistry. “You look at still adding a player like Marty (Bennett) last week. Things are always changing and evolving. We’re still trying to figure out what we’re doing well and after 8 or 9 weeks, you start to figure those things out. Now we have to work hard at those things, try to really own them, and use them going forward to try and win the most important games. We have a lot of important games coming up, starting with this one. Hopefully we can play our best football going forward.”

Brady said he’s been fired up for this game with the Raiders south of the border ever since the schedule was released all those months ago.

“I’ve never been to Mexico City,” he said. “It’s been a game you kind of look forward to. We’re playing against a really good football team in a pretty cool environment. It will be very memorable. I think everyone is excited.”