Patriots

Seahawks kicking emergency shines light on Patriots' contingency plan

Seahawks kicking emergency shines light on Patriots' contingency plan

FOXBORO -- Ryan Allen would never want it to happen. He'll tell you that as many times as you need to hear it. (Almost a half-dozen times in about 10 minutes, if you let him.) But if he ever had to kick because something happened to Stephen Gostkowski, he'd be ready.

"I don't ever get to swing like that anymore, but it'd be super fun to maybe try to knock a couple in one time," Allen said. "Not that I'd ever want that to happen. But I'd be licking my chops for sure. I definitely know how to lock my ankle and swing with that form to kick it somewhat straight."

The topic only came up in the Patriots locker room because of something that'd happened the weekend before.

The Seahawks lost kicker Sebastian Janikowski due to a hamstring injury in the final play of the first half of their Wild Card game against the Cowboys. That would have forced punter Michael Dickson, who grew up playing Australian rules football in Sydney, to place drop-kicks between the uprights for field goals or extra points if the Seahawks wanted to go that route.

Instead, they went for two-point conversions twice (successfully) and went for it on fourth-and-five from the Dallas 39-yard line (successfully) with Janikowski out. Pete Carroll admitted losing his kicker changed everything, including his play-calling philosophy down in Cowboys territory.

"Absolutely. We had to change. We were in a different mode," Carroll said. "We were still ready to kick a field goal if we had to, but we were going to do what we could to avoid that and not make that the issue."

Allen, who holds for Gostkowski's kicks, watched it all play out and wondered why Dickson didn't get an opportunity. It's not as though Allen is out there every day grinding away to make sure he can be effective if called upon in a point-after or field-goal situation. But he's worked on it enough as a pro, and he at least some level of experience -- he served as Oregon State's backup punter and kicker for two years before transferring to Louisiana Tech -- that he's confident he can pick it off the turf and send it flying with some level of accuracy.

"When I was hitting it everyday, I was hitting it good," he said. "I could hit low 50s. I wasn't the extra cannon guy who would go back there and launch it. But 45-in. I got that pattern down to where I could hit a pretty clean, straight ball."

Special teams coach Joe Judge may go to Allen a few times in a year when the team has some extra time and suggest that Allen boot a few through the uprights. Plus, Allen will smash a few every so often on his own just to stay fresh during the downtime that comes with being an NFL specialist.

"It's not an everyday thing," he said. "But every week, every couple weeks, I'll put the tee down and stroke five or 10 from the PAT range."

A fair amount of his work as a kicker also comes from simply messing around with long-snapper Joe Cardona while they wait for Gostkowski to join them on the practice field. They'll play "P-I-G," placing a tee at different spots on the field and calling their shots.

Cardona has hit one from 50 yards away in the Empower Field House, he said, and Allen credits Cardona as probably the third-best leg on the roster.

"The ongoing joke is that he says he can maybe kick better than me," Allen said. "It's actually impressive he can kick as well as he can for being a long-snapper. He's not bad. He's not bad. I'm taking him over most, probably.

"He's like, 'You're gonna hold still because I'm the good kicker and you're the good holder.' I'd tell him, "Nah, nah. If I get my opportunity, you're not coming in. I've been waiting six years.' "

Like Allen, Cardona doesn't want to see anyone other than Gostkowski kicking. But he knows they have to be ready in case that were to ever happen. Part of the trickle-down of that situation would be that, with Allen kicking, the team would need a new holder.

Chris Hogan (in practice), Brian Hoyer and Tom Brady all have some experience as holders, though holding for a left-footed kicker might be a tad different than the other way around.

"That's something we do in OTAs," Allen said. "In OTAs, we'll go through four or five different guys just to see who we got to hold. [Danny Amendola] was doing it. 'Dola has really good hands, you could take any one of those receivers and their hands are so good, in 10 or 15 minutes [they'd be fine]. You'd just tell 'em it doesn't need to be perfect."

"There's always contingency plans," Cardona said. "Guys are tremendously versatile on this team. You see guys plug and play all the time so there's always plan when something like that -- God forbid -- happens. It's just about being prepared."

Allen has never had to sub in for Gostkowski, but Gostkowski has had to sub in for Allen. Back in the 2013 postseason, Allen suffered a shoulder injury when he fell going after a snap that sailed over his head. Gostkowski stepped in and hit two inside the 20-yard line.

“I’ve never punted in a game before," Gostkowski said at the time. "It’s one of those things where you really don’t know how you’re going to do. There are so many different things that go into punting with catching the ball, getting the laces around, and doing it all with the timing. They’ve got guys coming at you and [you have to] get the balls off fast enough. I have decent hands and I was a little worried that it was raining. So I put some gloves on and just tried to catch it and kick it to give the guys a chance . . . It was cool. I had a good time.”

Similarly, if it ever came down to Allen staring down an extra point, there's no doubt he'd enjoy himself.

"Never do I ever want that to happen, but I will say that I used to love kicking," Allen said. "It would be kind of like with Julian [Edelman] playing outside 'backer or cornerback. He tells me all the time those are some of the funnest moments he's ever had playing because it was a different position and it almost felt like being a kid again . . . 

MORE TOM E. CURRAN ON THE PATS:

"I know [Gostkowski] had fun [punting]. He used the phrase, 'there's no expectation' because you're the emergency guy. Julian, same thing. It's like, 'Shoot away, dog! No one else can do it better than you can right now so go for it.' "

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Benjamin Watson: 'I do think there's a much more acceptance now of players speaking out'

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USA TODAY Sports

Benjamin Watson: 'I do think there's a much more acceptance now of players speaking out'

The death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis has sparked protests throughout the United States as people have gathered to raise awareness and call for change in the fight against racial injustice.

Many athletes across different sports have been leaders in that movement, including a few right here in Boston.

Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to engage in peaceful protests last weekend. Celtics centers Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier, as well as guard Marcus Smart, participated in peaceful protests in Boston on Sunday.

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NBA players aren't alone, though. The 2020 NFL season isn't scheduled to start until September, but many of the league's players have not been shy about speaking out or taking part in peaceful protests in recent days.

NFL players also haven't been afraid to protest racial injustice before games, including former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem during the 2016 season. Several other players have done the same since Kaepernick.

Former Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson joined the latest episode of the "Patriots Talk Podcast" with Tom E. Curran to discuss a number of topics related to the events that have unfolded throughout the nation over the last week or so.

Does Watson think NFL players will be more willing to and unified in protesting when the season begins, and will the league, its fans and the owners be more receptive to understanding those protests if they happen?

"Yes, yes, and yes," Watson said. "I think we are on a continuum of awareness, we're on a continuum of involvement of many people in different phases and spheres of life who are getting on board with this. Some people may not even agree that it's an issue, but they say, 'You know what, everyone else is doing it and I don't want to be left out.' And so they get involved, maybe disingenuously, but then over time they realize the truth of the matter. And that's great as well, even if they get in on false pretenses. At some point if they realize it, then I think the goal has been accomplished. I do think there's a much more acceptance now of players speaking out about these things."

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Watson also thinks the Patriots have done well to allow their players to speak out and make an impact on important matters away from the football field.

"And I'll say this, I was talking to someone the other day with the team, and I was telling him just that the Patriots, I believe, have done a good job in allowing their players to get involved with issues outside of the game," Watson said. "They've provided a space. There was a bill about education that came up last year, here in Massachusetts. A number of players got on board, speaking about it and talking about it. They had support from Mr. Kraft. They had support from coach Belichick to go and do those things. Support from the PR department. Other teams aren't like that, so there are varying degrees of which the organization will support and understand.

"I think the biggest thing here in Boston that I've seen is the reaction, especially of fans, when players are kneeling -- everybody can get behind education, but when it comes to police brutality and racism and those sorts of things, it gets a little touchy. I do think that there will be more of an acceptance -- there will be more involvement from other players. We've seen an outcry from players, black, white, it didn't matter, when it came to George Floyd. I've had multiple players reach out, 'I don't understand these things, give me some resources so I can read about what's been going on that I'm just not privy to.' I think there's definitely going to be a greater awareness and a greater togetherness with at least in identifying the issue. ..."

You can check Watson's full conversation with Curran in the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.

Kraft family issues statement on George Floyd's death: 'We are horrified by the acts of racism we've witnessed'

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USA TODAY Sports

Kraft family issues statement on George Floyd's death: 'We are horrified by the acts of racism we've witnessed'

The New England Patriots reacted Tuesday night to the death of George Floyd by releasing a statement from the Kraft family.

Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody last week, which has led to protests over racial injustice throughout the United States over the last several days. 

Here is the Kraft family statement in full:

"Over the last several days, we have tried to listen, learn and reflect. We have been at a loss for the appropriate words, perhaps because there are none to adequately describe the horrific incidents of the last few weeks. It is impossible for us to comprehend what happened to George Floyd or the pain his family must be feeling, a pain that resonates with so many others who have lost loved ones in similar brutalities that were not captured on video for the rest of the world to see. We cannot begin to understand the frustration and fear members of our black community have faced for generations. Recent events have shined a light on a topic that demands much more attention.

"Our country deeply needs healing. We don't have the answers, but we do know that we want to be a part of the change. As leaders in the New England community, we must speak up. Here is where our family, and our organization, stands:

"We are horrified by the acts of racism we've witnessed. We are heartbroken for the families who have lost loved ones, and we are devastated for our communities of color, who are sad, who are exhausted, who are suffering. We know that none of the sadness, exhaustion or suffering is new. We know it is systemic. Our eyes, ears and hearts are open.

"Our family has a long history of supporting vulnerable people in our communities and advocating for equality. But past efforts don't mean anything until we all stand on equal footing in America, so we must act in the present, and not simply rely on what we've done in the past. There remains much work to be done. We will not rest on statements, because words without actions are void. Rather, we will work harder than ever before – through our philanthropy, community engagement, advocacy and supporting the work of our players – to build bridges, to promote equality, to stand up for what's right and to value ALL people."