Stephen Gostkowski

Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

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Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

FOXBORO -- Stephen Gostkowski is almost 34 years old, but in Mexico City he provided a reminder that he's not slowing down in his 12th NFL season. 

After going four-for-four on field goals -- including a team-record 62-yarder, a 51-yarder and a 40-yarder -- and making all three of his extra points, Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the sixth time in his career. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, Bill Belichick explained that someone in Gostkowski's situation probably isn't improving at this point in his career. But if he's maintaining a strong level of play, that's OK. 

"I don’t know how much real improvement you’re going to see from a player that’s been in the league 12 or 20 years in a case like Adam [Vinatieri] or somebody like that," Belichick said. "But, if the level they’re performing at is pretty good, if they can maintain that, then that’s certainly enough to help the team.

"Are there things that a player can do better? Yeah, sure, there always are technique things. I think Steve has really improved in some of his alternative kicks on kickoffs, as an example, instead of just kicking every ball as far as he can. He’s done a great job of that. I’d say it’s maintaining the timing and the overall leg speed and technique that makes kickers good at their job."

No doubter: Gostkowski knew he wouldn't be short on record-setting kick

No doubter: Gostkowski knew he wouldn't be short on record-setting kick

The Raiders gave Stephen Gostkowski plenty of time to think about the 62-yard kick he was about to line up when they called a timeout just before the end of the first half. Didn't matter. Gostkowski returned to his spot, watched a good snap turn into a good hold, which turned into a Patriots record.

It was the longest field goal in Patriots history, making it the longest in Stephen Gostkowski's career as he bested his previous record of 58 yards set earlier this season. It was also the perfect exclamation point to a perfect day for Gostkowski, who went four-for-four on field goals and three-for-three on extra points in his team's 33-8 win over the Raiders in Mexico City. 

When asked about the half-ending kick, Gostkowski credited his teammates for putting him in position to kick it. They got from their own seven-yard line with 33 seconds left to the Raiders 45-yard line with five seconds remaining. A 20-yard run by Dion Lewis and completions to Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski did the trick. 

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"I think every time I kick a long kick, it's Gronk who makes the catch right beforehand," Gostkowski told reporters. "It's a nice little polish connection. It was cool. You can wait your whole career and not get a kick like that. It's a very opportunistic job. You're only as good as the opportunities you get. I got a good opportunity, and I'm glad I took advantage of it."

The longest kick Gostkowski tried in warmups was from 60 yards away but he had no concerns about trying to make something longer. Having kicked at altitude all week at the Air Force Academy, he knew his range would be better than it usually is. 

"I don't usually go past 60 in warmups," he said. "I hit one and I made it by a good bit. I knew that coming up short -- if I hit it good -- probably wasn't going to happen. Warm weather, altitude, the ball is going to fly. I just tried to concentrate on getting a good foot on it , making sure it stayed straight enough. Got the opportunity, took advantage of it. It's exciting for the whole team."

Gostkowski also used the extra oomph he had in Mexico City to boot six of his seven kickoffs for touchbacks, keeping the NFL's leading return man Cordarrelle Patterson (30.8 yards per return) from burning the Patriots in that phase.

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Belichick steps to podium wearing Air Force hoodie: 'I'll always be a Navy man'

Belichick steps to podium wearing Air Force hoodie: 'I'll always be a Navy man'

Bill Belichick stepped to the podium at Estadio Azteca on Sunday night following his team's 33-8 win over Oakland wearing a royal blue hooded sweatshirt (sleeves cut, of course) and a smirk. 

Emblazoned across his chest: Air Force. 

After spending last week in Colorado Spring preparing for the Raiders, the Patriots coach wanted to make sure he thanked those who hosted him and his team, including Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy Lieutenant General Jay Silveria. 

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"I'll always be a Navy man, all right. Always be a Navy man," Belichick said. "But I just wanted to give a shout out and a big thanks to General Silveria and his great staff at the United States Air Force Academy for his hospitality and the week that we had there. 

"This has been a three-leg trip for us: Denver, Colorado Springs and Mexico City. We really asked a lot of the players, asked a lot of our organization, and they all delivered. We had a great nine days. We really got better as a football team. But we met all the challenges that we needed to meet head-on and tried to work through them." 

Perhaps when Belichick looks back at the week, one of the memories he'll carry with him will be what he saw from kicker Stephen Gostkowski blasting kicks through the thin air of Colorado Springs. 

The Air Force Academy's facilities are close in terms elevation to Mexico City, and Gostkowski's kicks were flying during practice. That meant that his range was better than normal, which in turn allowed the Patriots to push the envelope a bit more at the end of the first half against the Raiders. 

After having taken over possession with 33 seconds remaining deep in their own territory, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense got Gostkowski set up for a 62-yard field goal that he drilled easily as time expired in the half. That bested Gostkowski's previous career-long and it sparked a team-wide celebration with the veteran kicker at the center. 

"Our players gave a great effort tonight," Belichick said. "They came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football. Thought the execution at the end of the half, when we were able to get the field goal, obviously a great kick by Steve, but to put ourselves in that position is very much the way we talked about it and really kind of practiced it this week. That showed up at our Friday practice at Colorado Springs."

It was a case of sound preparation playing out on the field when it mattered. But Belichick acknowledged that to make a three-leg trip like theirs a success, they needed more than good practices. 

"Credit to the team and the entire organization, all our support people that did such a great job planning this trip, and making all the accommodations, doing all the work so that the players and the coaches could devote their time and energy to beating Oakland. That's a good Raider football team that we saw. Really appreciate everything that they did. Good to be going home with two wins on this trip."

The win in Mexico moved Belichick one ahead of Hall of Fame Cowboys coach Tom Landry, whom Belichick tied last week against the Broncos with regular-season win No. 270. Belichick now is in sole possession of third place when it comes to career regular-season wins for a head coach. 

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