Patriots Have FAITH In Gostkowski

 

Stephen Gostkowski (left) and Rob Gronkowski watch as Gostkowski’s kick sails through the uprights in Sunday’s overtime winner against the Jets.

There’s few positions in sports like that of a kicker for a football team. They may be on the field for all of a minute of total time during any given week, but there may be no more important player to the outcome of the game.

In an age when games are often decided by just a couple of points, field goals are huge and cannot be taken for granted. Neither can the men who kick them.

While they may not have the most glamorous of jobs, they can be the ones who receive all the glory. Or all the blame.

No one knows this better than former Patriots‘ kicker and Stephen Gostkowski‘s predecessor, Adam Vinatieri, whose clutch kicking has gotten him the recognition as one of the best kickers of all time.

Gostkowski had developed his own reputation as one of the more clutch kickers currently in the NFL over the past few years, making plenty of big kicks and gaining the complete faith of his teammates.

Like all kickers, however, the ups were eventually accompanied by some downs – particularly at the beginning of this season.

Obviously, succeeding the great Vinatieri is a challenge of its own. How could he possibly make as many clutch kicks as him? The Snow Bowl, Super Bowl XXXVI and Super Bowl XXXVIII were all won by Vinatieri kicks in the last seconds.

Vinatieri was one of the biggest reasons the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl in 2001 as he made two huge kicks on the way to the title.

He didn’t just do it in the regular season in the middle of unimportant games. He did it when it mattered most – something Gostkowski, and somewhat understandably so, has not yet duplicated in his seven years in New England.

In seven years as the Patriots’ kicker, Gostkowski has made 157 out of 186 field goal attempts, which is good for 84 percent. He missed just one extra point and that was in his rookie season of 2006. He was a Pro Bowler following the 2008 season.

He has had chances though to start building a lasting legacy of his own. One chance in particular from earlier this year is sure to stand out in the minds of Pats fans.

With his team down by two in Week 2 against the Cardinals, Gostkowski lined up for the game winning field goal. You might remember he missed it and the game was lost.

This of course set off a chain reaction of Vinatieri supremacy claims. Why? Because he missed a tough kick in a pressure-filled situation – something Patriots fans are not all that used to seeing.

And then missed two kicks in the Week 4 blowout of Buffalo. While the misses ended up not affecting the outcome of the game, they were relevant for a little while at least while the game remained close and it seemed his struggles might have been back. A tough few weeks had taken place for him and it his confidence appeared to have possibly been shaken.

Last week against the Jets in what was almost a must-win game for the Patriots, however, after much of that sitting around mentioned above, Gostkowski got the chance to redeem himself. Like so many other sports, the spotlight seems to find you. Especially when you may not want it to.

A last-second kick to force overtime: check. A boot in the middle of the OT period for the lead: got it. Gostkowski made amends, at least for the time being, for his failure to come through early in the year and behind him, the Patriots won the game. There is no better example of having almost nothing to do with the game for the better part of four quarters and then being called on in such a crucial time in the final minute.

What’s more important is that Bill Bellichick and the team never lost their confidence in him even when others might have. In a similar fashion as the Cardinals game, Tom Brady could have kept trying to push for a touchdown, but was content to set up a manageable field goal try.

That’s what good teammates do. They have enough faith to put the outcome of the game in one another’s hands (or feet in this case). Gostkowski had hit his previous four field goal tries in the game.

Of course it was a big personal moment for Gostkowski to get some of his confidence back, if he had even lost any, but more importantly, the big win against a division opponent brought the Patriots back over .500 and they improved to 2-0 in the AFC East. Maybe he just needed a little more pressure in order to thrive. An early season game against a random opponent didn’t provide him with enough pressure to come through.

In the quick changing world of professional sports, there has not been a clearly better example on the Patriots lately of hero to goat and back to hero.

Professionals don’t make the same mistakes twice though. Case and point: Gostkowski.

Who knows when his chance will come to duplicate one of Vinatieri’s heroic kicks in a driving snowstorm or when the world assumes you’re going to lose. That’s the thing about kickers… It’s all about patience and then execution.

 

 Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.

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