Patriots

Pats were wary of wind on perfect night for Stephen Gostkowski

Pats were wary of wind on perfect night for Stephen Gostkowski

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. 

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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. 

Five non-Brady storylines to track as Patriots host Eagles in Week 2 of preseason

Five non-Brady storylines to track as Patriots host Eagles in Week 2 of preseason

Thursday night should be Tom Brady's night. That's the plan, at least, according to him. 

That's not to say he'll have the spotlight all to himself against the Eagles, or that that's what he wants. But if he plays at all, there will be boatloads of attention paid to every snap he receives. They'll be his first plays he gets against another opponent since Super Bowl LII, and they'll just so happen to come against the team that beat him back in February. 

PATRIOTS VS. EAGLES

We went over the various aspects of Brady's night we'll be watching closely here, if Bill Belichick decides he wants Brady to play at all. But we can't train our focus on No. 12 in blue all night, and we know you won't either. So here are five more storylines -- non-Brady storylines -- to track when the Patriots host the Eagles at Gillette Stadium. 

DECKER CATCHING ON?

Eric Decker had one of the worst starts to a practice of any Patriots receiver this summer just a few days ago. He pushed off in a one-on-one drill. He dropped a pass in a one-on-one drill. Soon thereafter, he dropped two more passes when there wasn't a defender in sight. Not what you're looking for. Decker did, however, bounce back. And for him that was encouraging. Thursday will give the newest Patriots receiver another opportunity to show that he's gaining in his understanding of the playbook. If that's coming along, the fundamentals -- like playing penalty-free and catching the football -- should follow. Given the state of the receiver position in Foxboro at the moment, the Patriots may need to lean on Decker more than they would like. They'll certainly give him some time to figure things out, but he'll have to continue to show progress, as he did during that up-and-down (or down-and-up) session earlier in the week. 

PATRIOTS HAVE THEIR (BIG) BACK?

There's an opportunity here. The Patriots have gone without both Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead for the last handful of practices, meaning there will be reps galore for the likes of Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, Ralph Webb and Brandon Bolden. All four (plus James White) saw action offensively in the preseason opener against the Redskins. Of that group, I think the most fascinating battle is between Gillislee and Hill. It was Hill who looked the strongest last week (51 yards on 11 carries), but he looked limited at times in practice this week. Is he dealing with something that could drop his snap count Thursday? Will that leave the door open for Gillislee, who had a ho-hum night (43 yards on 14 carries) last week? Hill looks like the more capable pass-catcher and the more kicking-game friendly (three first-team special teams units against Washington) back at the moment. 

McCOURTY'S CHANCE TO SHINE?

The Patriots held Jason McCourty out of preseason game No. 1. He didn't have much of an answer as to why that was the case, but he didn't seem too concerned when he spoke to reporters on Sunday. On Monday and Tuesday, he was taking snaps with the first-team defense. Will that continue to be the case against the Eagles? McCourty could be in the running for the No. 2 corner role -- Eric Rowe has held that down for most of camp -- and might be able to use a strong performance against Philly as a springboard to greater consideration from the coaching staff to be a starter. In competitive periods Monday and Tuesday, McCourty looked good. He picked off a Brian Hoyer pass intended for Phillip Dorsett in one-on-ones and broke up another intended for Rob Gronkowski near the goal line. He said he's been doing his best to teach the young corners he's in competition with -- JC Jackson, Keion Crossen and Ryan Lewis have all stood out at different points this summer -- but Thursday could be his night. 

BENTLEY SPEEDING TO A ROSTER SPOT?

Inside the Patriots facilities, Ja'Whaun Bentley has an argument as the most pleasantly surprising player of training camp. As a fifth-round pick, he wasn't guaranteed a roster spot . . . but he now seems to have a jump on one. After a strong performance against Washington -- where he showcased good instincts, an ability to relay play-calls, confident pre-snap communication, and competency in coverage -- we landed him on our first 53-man roster projection and highlighted his skill set in our "Long Shot" series. A three-year captain at Purdue, Bentley isn't a next-level athlete, but he has the potential to be a middle-of-the-defense voice on a unit that could be enticed to deploy its best communicator, Dont'a Hightower, on the edge. "Eager to learn," Hightower said of Bentley this week. "He’s really become a sponge. First dude in the classroom, last one out, always asking questions. Nice-sized kid, good on his feet. He’s going to be a good ballplayer."

TIME TO TACKLE THE ISSUE AT HAND?

The Patriots had nine missed tackles against the Redskins last week, and two more were wiped out due to penalties. That kind of thing will drive a coaching staff nuts, but in some ways it's to be expected this time of year. In camp, the Patriots almost never have any periods where players are tackled to the ground. (Goal-line run periods are probably the closest thing to "live" for Belichick's club, and those 22-car pile-ups are rare.) The result is a team that's not accustomed to tackling, trying to tackle in a preseason game that (for some) doesn't really matter. It can get ugly out there, and Belichick knows it. "Running and tackling are two skills that you don’t work on from the end of the season until pretty much the first preseason game. You can do a little drill work, but it’s not quite the same. So, any player that’s involved in any of those, running or tackling, they might have done it before, but they haven’t done it recently, and they haven’t done it at the timing and speed that it occurs in the game. So, there’s an adjustment, a break-in period for all of us, and that’s part of what preseason games are for . . . We can improve our tackling. We can certainly improve our running and breaking tackles. So, that’s part of the process."

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