Sep 12, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots punter Ryan Allen (6) holds the ball for kicker Stephen Gostkowski (3) in a failed field goal attempt during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Gostkowski has been the kicker for the New England Patriots since 2006 after long-time Patriot and hero of three Super Bowls, Adam Vinatieri, left for Indianapolis. Since taking over the starting job, Gostkowski has excelled each season and is consistently one of the best kickers in the league, if not the best. In fantasy football leagues, he’s been almost guaranteed to be the first kicker taken off the board every year. Despite his reliable performances, many Patriots fans can be heard in bars and seen on Twitter calling for his job. It seems as if every Gostkowski field goal the past year or so has been accompanied by either sarcastic tweets to the effect of, “oh look, Gostkowski actually made a FG,” or “yup, Gostkowski would miss that one! #newkickerplease.” The lack of confidence in Gostkowski is baffling and he deserves some defense of his job besides his actual performances.
First, people need to realize that kickers are human too. Tom Brady throws an interception once in a while, and no one is clamoring for his job. While it is true that kickers have a very limited responsibility, and should be counted on every week for some easy points, they are going to miss the occasional field goal. The Gostkowski-hate seemed to begin last season when he missed a 42-yard field goal that would have lifted the Patriots over the Cardinals in what ended as a 20-18 loss. Although fans scapegoat him for that loss since the kick is one he should have made, they overlook the numerous mistakes the Patriots made earlier in the game, like giving up 5 sacks on Brady and giving up a blocked punt that gave the Cardinals a touchdown. Gostkowski was arguably the Patriots’ best player that game too, converting 4 out of his 5 field goals, with two of them being over 50 yards. Two weeks later, he missed two of his three field goals in what started out as a close game against the Buffalo Bills, which helped to start the trend of Gostkowski skepticism. The skepticism was fueled by three missed field goals this preseason, which people forget are meaningless and kickers need to work out offseason-kinks just as much as any other position.
Jan 14, 2012, Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski (3) attempts an extra point during an AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Broncos 45-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
Gostkowski is the most accurate kicker in Patriots history; yes, even better than Adam Vinatieri, although he hasn’t made three Super Bowl-winning field goals. In Vinatieri’s first seven seasons with the Patriots he averaged 81.7% on field goal tries; Gostkowski has averaged 84.2%. The two kickers have about the same power behind their kicks too: Gostkowski’s longest FG is 53 yards and Vinatieri only kicked longer than that three times (54, 55, and 57). When you compare the two kickers’ playoff performances, they aren’t even close. Vinatieri made the postseason seven times with New England and converted 75% of his FG’s (30/40 attempted), Gostkowski’s percentage is a whopping 90%, only missing 2 postseason field goals out of 20 (in five fewer postseason games/two fewer seasons). Although Vinatieri is known for his clutch Super Bowl performances, his overall playoff and regular season performances don’t even come close to Gostkowski.
A final key statistic to note, particularly now with the rule changes, is Gostkowski’s touchback percentage. So far this season, Gostkowski has 13 touchbacks on 14 kickoffs. This forces opposing offenses to put together 80-yard drives for touchdowns and prevents them from gaining favorable field position to start a drive. This is particularly important for the Patriots right now with their special teams’ captain Matthew Slater being injured. So the next time Gostkowski misses a field goal, give him some slack and realize the Patriots have one of the best kickers in the league.