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 . . . 


"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.' "



Gaudy numbers don't tell entire story on night full of teaching moments for Jarrett Stidham

Gaudy numbers don't tell entire story on night full of teaching moments for Jarrett Stidham

Jarrett Stidham was willing to admit that the football gods were smiling on him Saturday night in Nashville. The rookie quarterback had three passes nearly picked off in his second preseason game as a pro. Possession remained with the Patriots on all three.

"Yeah, I got pretty lucky there a couple times," Stidham acknowledged, "but I trust my guys to go make those plays and sure enough they did. Yeah you can't put the ball in too much danger so I gotta work on that. But overall I thought we did a good job."

Not a terrible assessment. 

Stidham finished with a gaudy preseason stat line against the Titans: He completed 14-of-19 passes for 193 yards (a 10.2 yards-per-attempt number) and a touchdown. No picks for the second straight week meant Stidham also earned himself a robust quarterback rating of 123.4. 

Through two preseason games, Stidham is now 28-for-43 (65.1 percent), for 372 yards (8.7 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns. He hasn't had a pass intercepted, and four of his incompletions have been the result of drops. 

Five of Stidham's throws have been throwaways, and one was altered when he was hit as he threw, according to Pro Football Focus. If you factor in those attempts, Stidham's "aimed" passes would make him 32-for-37 and give him a 125.1 quarterback rating. 

But the numbers don't tell the whole story on Stidham's second game as a pro. 

His first snap resulted in a safety in the Patriots end zone, which probably can't be put on him. But the entire first half was essentially a wash for Stidham, who didn't come in until there were less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter.

To start the third quarter, Stidham looked good. He hit Jakobi Meyers ("He's a heckuva player," Stidham said later) for a 14-yard gain on third-and-seven. Then he hit Eric Saubert and Lance Kendricks on back-to-back snaps for a combined 38 yards. The passing offense stalled, though, in the red zone. That's where the first of his three near-picks came, when he went to Saubert by the pylon and watched the football glance off a defender's hands. 

Two throws and almost seven minutes later, Stidham was nearly picked again. He was hit on a first-down attempt, and perhaps that shook him up, but his next play looked like an odd decision. He fired high to Nick Brossette in the left flat but telegraphed the throw to such a degree that it went through the hands of the defender rushing in to make a play.

Early in the fourth quarter, Stidham dodged another bullet. He was blasted by linebacker LaTroy Lewis and tried to send the football out of bounds as he worked to avoid the hit. He just narrowly got it there, as the defensive back closest in coverage caught the ball . . . but landed out of bounds. 

There were also moments of hesitation from Stidham that we've seen off and on throughout camp. He was late to throw to Saubert at the goal-line on that near-pick interception. He also got a little jumpy it seemed at times, looking to scramble when he didn't necessarily need to, as he did on the throw after the near-pick intended Saubert. Stidham rolled right without much pressure and threw incomplete to Meyers, but there was a defensive holding call. 

Highlighting those moments is not to say Stidham had a bad game. Many of the same things we said of Stidham last week in Detroit still applied after Patriots-Titans.

* Stidham is clearly very accurate down the field and on the move; his back-shoulder touchdown throw to Damoun Patterson to take a 22-17 lead was perfectly-placed and timed. 

* Stidham still knows how to pick up yardage with his legs; he found 11 on a third-and-10, and churned out eight more on a third-and-six. 

* Stidham is also still operating out of the huddle and under center much more fluidly than anticipated, given that he came from college offenses that were heavy on spread concepts.

Stidham had one drive that was particularly impressive, when he hit five different receivers to help the Patriots cover 99 yards before Patterson's score. And yet, despite the consistent accuracy, seeing Stidham balk at times with the timing of certain plays is a reminder that he's like so many young quarterbacks trying to figure things out. 

It's early for an anointment. It's so early, and there's so much for Stidham to learn from a night like Saturday's, that kind of performance could be viewed as a well-balanced quarterbacking meal for a rookie in preseason: Confidence from the good stuff, lessons from the bad. 

Stidham will be the first to tell you he's still learning.

"The more that I'm around these guys, the more that I'm in the meeting room with Josh [McDaniels] and Mick [Lombardi] and Tom [Brady] and Brian [Hoyer], just learning as much as I can. We have a bunch of really good players on this team so that makes my job a lot easier just getting the ball to those guys."

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Patriots CB Joejuan Williams finishes strong week with highlight against Tennesse's big-bodied receiver

Patriots CB Joejuan Williams finishes strong week with highlight against Tennesse's big-bodied receiver

We had an inkling that Joejuan Williams might show up in front of a crowd that included family and friends from his hometown of Nashville. But we didn't know he'd be on the field quite as often as he was Saturday night against the Titans.

The second-round corner, who stayed close to home when he chose Vanderbilt coming out of high school, ended up starting for the Patriots on the outside, he stayed out there for much of the game, and he checked Tennessee's top wideout Corey Davis at times.

Davis gave Stephon Gilmore -- the best corner in football in 2018 -- fits in their matchup last season, but Williams handled the challenge nicely. On two targets to Davis, Williams didn't allow a catch, and he made an impressive pass-breakup when he stuck to Davis' out-route, then used his 6-foot-4 frame to get a hand in the passing lane. 

"It was just great competition at the end of the day," Williams said. "Getting reps with [Davis] in practice and getting reps with him in the game . . . He's a great player and it was great to compete against him."

After what was likely his best week of practice as a pro, Williams finished strong. On Monday, in pads against his own teammates, he picked off two passes and batted away another. He flashed good ball skills again during joint sessions with the Titans, and then did the same under the lights. 

What a difference a week makes. Against the Lions at Ford Field in New England's preseason opener, Williams lost contain on a run play to his side of the field, and then when he caught up to the runner he threw him to the ground out of bounds after the play was over. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty was tacked onto an already long gain, and Williams suddenly had a stereotypical "rookie mistake" on his resume.

But after Saturday night's performance, for Williams and others, it seems as though the cornerback picture is coming into clearer focus. 

Gilmore, of course, is safe as the team's go-to No. 1 cover man. Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones seem very safe as well as neither has played in the first two preseason games. Both get first-team reps in practice, and both signed new deals -- Jones is playing on a restricted free-agent tender -- this offseason.

Then there's JC Jackson and Keion Crossen. Crossen looks like a long-term special-teams maven, who's spot on a team that values the kicking game as much as it does could very well be safe. Jackson should be safe as well after a strong rookie campaign that saw him earn a starting role late in the season. He's been much more active this summer -- 38 snaps in two games -- than others who are in the starting-lineup conversation. Still, despite being flagged for a 27-yard pass-interference penalty, he feels like a lock. 

What's fascinating about Williams is that in the last week he's made a pretty clear statement: Against certain types of receivers -- Davis is 6-3, 209 pounds -- he can be a matchup weapon. The second-rounder taken one year before Williams, Duke Dawson, meanwhile, hasn't made any similar proclamations during camp. It's easy to see a potential role for Williams. Dawson's requires more squinting. The second-year player out of Florida hasn't had many memorable positive moments during practices, and he was in coverage on a 21-yard completion to Kalif Raymond Saturday.

Are we reading too much into one performance for Williams at a stadium that might've provided him a little extra motivation? Don't think so -- even if the second half of that sentence might be true.

"It was very cool to be here at the Titans facility," he said. "Something I grew up and I looked up to. I supported the Titans since I was a kid. At the end of the day, it was surreal to be back here, be in this locker room and be on that field and just play against them."

Surreal as it may have been, the reality is he could be an important piece in the Patriots defensive backfield this year, with a defined role. That's something not everyone in the Patriots corner group, no matter where they were drafted, can say at the moment.

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