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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Fourth-down dice rolls could decide AFC title game

Fourth-down dice rolls could decide AFC title game

Say “Fourth-and-2” to a more-than-casual NFL fan and there’s a good chance their mind will fly to one particular play.

The failed fourth-down gamble in Indianapolis on a Sunday night in 2009.

The decision by Bill Belichick to try and convert from his own 28 with 2:08 remaining and a 34-28 lead was an in-the-moment decision.

The Patriots' 31-14 lead at the start of the fourth had been sliced by two stunningly easy Peyton Manning touchdown drives. The New England defense was flagging and confused and Belichick could smell it on them.

Belichick asked himself: What would more likely lead to a win, a short flip to Kevin Faulk for a measly 2 yards or punting it away and giving a height-of-his-powers Manning the ball 60 yards away? Belichick decided the flip to Faulk was the better option. We all know how it went.

Initial outcry was predictable. It was such an unconventional and risky call that even former players like Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi believed it a sin against coaching.

But as the week went on, a more reasoned discussion took shape as to whether Belichick’s decision was actually inspired. This blog in the New York Times checking win-probability declared that going for it was overwhelmingly the right play.

That quick blog didn’t factor in particulars relative to how the Colts were playing offensively (well) or how the Patriots were playing defensively (poorly) or the venue or momentum or any of it. If those intangibles could have been quantified, it would have made the decision to go for it even more overwhelmingly logical.

Interestingly, Belichick made another fourth-quarter, fourth-down decision in Indianapolis the year before when Matt Cassel was his quarterback.

Trailing 18-15 with 4:40 remaining, the Patriots faced a fourth-and-15 from the Colts 45. He went for it. Didn’t work out. The Colts held the ball until 21 seconds were left, ballgame.

While the 2009 decision was based on fear of Manning scoring quickly, the 2008 gamble was based on the big-play impotence of the Patriots offense that night.

The Patriots had three possessions in the first half of that game and were in the midst of their third possession of the second half. Everything was taking forever.

The reason I bring this up now is two-fold.

First, fourth-and-2 actually started an earnest conversation about rolling the dice on fourth down and – because it was Belichick doing it on a national stage – it loosened the floodgates a little for coaches to be more adventurous, because the best coach in the league had done it and analytics backed him up.

Second, when you look at the two occasions mentioned, you get a sense of how many factors play into the decision. Score. Time. Field position. How the respective offenses and defenses are performing. And whether or not the other team is playing aggressively.

Last Saturday, the Chiefs put their AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Colts on ice early helped in part by fourth-down conversions in the first quarter.

On their first drive, KC didn’t even face a third down before scoring a touchdown. On their second drive, they faced fourth-and-1 at the Colts 47 and picked up 11. On the next play, they scored a 36-yard touchdown on a Tyreek Hill end around. On their third drive, they picked up a fourth-and-1 at the Indy 35 and went on to kick a field goal.

They went 3 for 4 on the day and are now 12 for 15 on the season.

“I liked it last week,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. “I can’t tell you I’d do that this week. Every game and situation’s different so it depends on matchups. It depends on what you have left on the gameplan sheet, situation and field position, time on the clock.

“All those things you kind of calculate in there and obviously what the other team does schematically,” he added. “So where you might have done it last week, you might not do it this week, that type of thing. So it’s kind of game-to-game, situation-to-situation.”

Opponents went 6 for 16 against the Patriots this season when they rolled the dice on fourth down. But Kansas City is a little more challenging than the rest of the league because of the diversity of weapons and mobility of quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

What will be interesting to see is how the Patriots play it on fourth down when they have the ball.

This year, they were 7 for 14 on fourth down. While we may have the perception of the Patriots as a team that will go for it often, they actually do so far less than a decade ago. From 2006-2009, they attempted 86 fourth-down conversions and succeeded 59 times. In the last four seasons they are 32 for 54.

Apprised of the numbers, Tom Brady said, “I think sometimes you get in the games and offensively you’re doing really well and you feel like if we have that extra down, we can get it,” said Tom Brady. “Sometimes it’s not going as well and you feel like they’ve been stopping us and then you punt.

“I don’t know what those particular reasons were,” he added. “I’m sure there was a reason for all of those, why we would go for them, why we wouldn’t. How many times did we go for it this year?”

Told the numbers, he said, “Fifty percent. That’s not very good.”

Would Brady ever feel emboldened to lobby for taking a risk? 

“Whatever the situation presents, I think we’ll try to do what’s best or what we think is best or gives us the best opportunity to win,” he said. “It’s one game. If you don’t win, that’s it. That’s what the playoffs are about. You’re right – they’ve got a great offense. We’re going to need to score a lot of points.”

This will be another element of the chess match between the sidelines that’s going to go on. If one offense is cashing in, the heat on the opposing offense goes up considerably to match points. Which means more decisions to push for retaining possession which also means more risk.

With both head coaches being a little older and perhaps a little bolder and both quarterbacks having unique skills that make one the reigning MVP and the other the soon-to-be MVP, expect the Patriots and Chiefs to use every down possible on Sunday to get to the Super Bowl.

FOURTH DOWN CONVERSIONS FOR PLAYOFF TEAMS

Chargers: 7 for 8

Saints: 13 for 16

Chiefs: 12 for 15

Seahawks: 11 for 14

Texans: 8 for 12

Bears: 9 for 15

Eagles: 14 for 23

Ravens: 13 for 22

Cowboys: 12 for 21

Patriots: 7 for 14

Colts: 7 for 15

Rams: 6 for 15

PATRIOTS ON FOURTH DOWN

'00: 13-26

'01: 7-17

'02: 9-20

'03: 6-14

'04: 4-10

'05: 13-17

'06: 16-20

'07: 15-22

'08: 17-22

'09: 11-22

'10: 7-14

'11: 7-11

'12: 8-12

'13: 7-15

'14: 7-13

'15: 9-15

'16: 8-12

'17: 8-13

'18: 7-14

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Jets writer says Adam Gase-led Jets will end Patriots' 'Evil Empire'

Jets writer says Adam Gase-led Jets will end Patriots' 'Evil Empire'

Many have attempted to predict the downfall of the Patriots' dynasty, and many have failed.

The latest to give it a shot? Jets beat reporter for the New York Daily News, Manish Mehta.

Mehta wrote a column Wednesday declaring that the Jets, now led by Adam Gase, will "end the Patriots' Evil Empire."

"The Evil Empire is resilient, ticked off and doling out giant middle fingers to the NFL universe during its latest run to the AFC Championship Game, but rest assured the team it despises the most will end its rule," Mehta wrote.

The Jets will kill the Patriots dynasty.

Yes, those Jets.

So, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady should revel in this oddly surprising run to the conference title game in Kansas City this weekend, soak up the moment whether or not they advance to the Super Bowl, and know this:

Sam Darnold and Adam Gase are coming."

Mehta goes on to claim Darnold will be "the best quarterback in the division for the next decade" and cite Tom Brady's age and Rob Gronkowski's decline as reasons for the Pats' imminent demise.

As the Patriots ready to take on the Chiefs in sub-zero temperatures for the AFC title, it's safe to say Gase and the Jets are the least of their concerns. Sure, the Jets are positioned to improve under Darnold and an offensive-minded head coach in Gase, but until improvements on paper translate to results on the field it'll be difficult to take predictions like Mehta's seriously.

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