As Nick Folk could surely tell you, kicking conditions were not optimal Thursday night.
Folk missed all three of his field goal attempts (56, 49 and 31 yards) in the Patriots’ 19-14 win over Tampa Bay. By the time he lined up for his 31-yarder in the fourth quarter, perhaps his confidence was rattled enough from his two misses on longer kicks made the shorter one more daunting than usual. Yet that wasn’t the only factor in play.
- Curran's Patriots-Buccaneers preview/review
- McCourty: Adversity helped us bond as a team
- Game Story: Patriots hold on to beat Buccaneers
- Best and Worst: Patriots 19, Buccaneers 14
- Gilmore on his bounce-back night: 'It was personal'
NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry noted that Bill Belichick and safeties coach Stephen Belichick were on the field checking the wind before the game, with the head coach gesturing from the Tampa sideline to the New England sideline. Belichick admitted Friday that the wind at Raymond James Stadium was fickle enough to dissuade the Pats from attempting a long field goal late.
With the Pats facing fourth-and-12 from the Tampa 33 with 10:59 to play, the Patriots opted to punt rather than have Stephen Gostkowski — who had already hit a 45-yarder and was three-for-three on the night at that point — attempt a 50-yard field goal.
“The wind was a crosswind. It was blowing from their bench to our bench. I don't think it was really favoring one direction or the other. Maybe a little bit towards the pirate ship end, but it seemed like mostly it was blowing across, but it was gusting. It wasn't consistent. It would at times die down and you wouldn't feel much and then other times it would kick up and was much more noticeable,” Belichick said.
“I think that's always the toughest situation for a field goal kicker and it’s tough for the punters on the drop because you think the ball is going to drop flat but it gusts and then it might not. Then you have a hard time hitting it properly on your foot. I don't think it affected the passing game too much. Those balls are a lot lower and are less affected by that type of wind. The kicking game, for sure, and then the way they had that field marking there, too, kicking off that flag where the field is dyed, same thing in the end zone, just a little different surface than what it is on the grass part of it with the paint or however that's done. It's just not quite as consistent of a surface there all the way around. Yes, that played into that decision a little bit. The wind, the distance and the surface all combined.”
The Pats would attempt a long field goal two drives later after the Bucs had cut New England’s lead to two points. Gostkowski drilled a 48-yarder to make him a perfect four-for-four on the night and make it a five-point game with 1:10 to play.
Yet when the Pats didn’t need to risk it, they didn’t. The lead was at nine points when the Pats opted to punt over going for the 50-yarder in the fourth.
“Stephen's kicking the ball great, so he probably would've made those, but if you were to miss one there then you give them the ball at the 42,43, 40-yard line – whatever it is – and then compared to being able to have an opportunity to down the ball, let's say around the five or so. You give up 35 yards of field position. That's what the risk is for the three points, but when we gained that – whatever it was – five or six yards there on the last play to get it from the 35 or 36 – whatever it was – from a 53-yard field goal to, like, a 45-yard field goal, so it would've been 52, 53 to 47, right? Forty-eight – whatever the last quick was. That was a big five yards in the decision process.”
Belichick’s numbers were off just a bit — it was really a two-yard difference between the kick the Pats avoided and the one they attempted. Either way, both decisions paid off in the win.