FOXBORO -- Shortly after it was announced that the Patriots had placed Stephen Gostkowski on injured reserve, his teammates didn't hesitate to explain to anyone asking just how much the kicker has meant to the group inside the locker room.
"There are two guys here who've been my teammates for the entirety for my career and Steve is one of them," Matthew Slater said. "I think he's a guy who's always done his job and done it quietly and done it at a high level for a long time. He's always put this team first. Always been willing to do whatever it takes in order for this team to be successful. His approach has been tremendous. I've learned how to be a pro from watching Steve over the years. It's truly an unfortunate situation. We're obviously wishing him the best."
Gostkowski was drafted by the Patriots in 2006 and brought in to replace three-time Super Bowl champion and clutch-kick-maker extraordinaire Adam Vinatieri. All he's done since then is become the team's all-time leading scorer and last as Bill Belichick's kicker longer than Vinatieri did. He's attempted a whopping 107 more field-goal attempts than Vinatieri did as a member of the Patriots. Vinatieri made 81.9 percent of his regular-season field-goal attempts, while Gostkowski sits at 87.4 percent for his career in New England.
"All-time great," Devin McCourty said. "I think because of Slate always being, like, the special teams captain, I think sometimes maybe the outside world doesn't know how much [Gostkowski] means to our unit and to us as a team.
"Just for me, the stability at that position, we never waver when there's a kick on the line, kickoffs, playing against tough returners. Sometimes the best thing to stop a tough returner is Steve kicking the ball out of the end zone. He's meant a lot to this team obviously the whole time I've been here. Obviously you see a lot of that in the record books and all of that. He has a lot of records for this franchise. I always speak on how much he means to the locker room. Always keeping it light. He's the best at every little thing, tournaments we do in the locker room. He'll definitely be missed throughout the year just having his presence in there."
The Patriots are reportedly choosing between veteran free agent kicking options Kai Forbath and Mike Nugent to fill Gostkowski's role. But just as Gostkowski wasn't tasked with being Vinatieri -- and Shayne Graham wasn't tasked with being Gostkowski when Gostkowski got injured in 2010 -- the next Patriots kicker won't be expected to give them everything Gostkowski did.
"Whoever the next guy is that comes in here, he doesn't need to be Steve," Slater said. "He doesn't need to try to be Adam Vinatieri. He just needs to be himself. He'll be here for a reason. That reason will be that Coach Belichick thinks that he's going to give us the best chance to help this team win games.
"We'll do whatever we can to support him, help him adjust. I know [punter] Jake [Bailey] and [long-snapper] Joe [Cardona] will do a good job of trying to get him acclimated to the operation as far as field goals are concerned. We'll take it one day at a time. Just like any of us, he's going to have to work at it one day at a time."
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