Patriots veteran kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been uncharacteristically inaccurate thus far this season. Is it just a hiccup or a portent of more to come?
The 2016 season has gotten off to a rocky start for Stephen Gostkowski.
After going 3-for-3 in the season opener against Arizona, the normally sure-footed kicker has missed field goals in three out of the last four contests — kicks of 39, 48 and 50 yards — with some suggesting that his errant kicking could be the result of residual psychological issues stemming from last year’s AFC Championship game in Denver.
In the first quarter of that contest, Gostkowski sent his PAT wide right. It was his first extra point miss in 523 attempts and would later come back to haunt the Patriots, forcing the team to attempt a late two-point conversion in the hopes of sending the game to overtime. That try failed and New England fell to Denver by a score of 20-18.
The Broncos would go on to win the Super Bowl.
Gostkowski’s most recent miss came on a 50-yarder last Sunday at Cleveland — once again wide right. In his postgame comments to the Boston Herald, he appeared to shrug off the miscue.
“I’m obviously not playing up to my standards, but there’s a new shot next week,” he said.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater also rallied to Gostkowski’s, defense. “He’s a proven player, a veteran in this league who has had a lot of success year in and year out. Football is a game of ups and downs — there are going to be some good times and there are going to be some bad times — but we just stick with it. And we definitely stick with Stephen,” said Slater.
What makes Gostkowski’s case even more curious is that he continues to excel in the kickoff game. His penchant for pinning opposing returners deep in their own territory — flipping the new touchback rules on their head in the process — has paid enormous dividends for the Patriots. Through five games, New England’s opponents have the worst average starting field position (22-yard line) in the league.
CBS analyst Jay Feely thinks that by altering his kicking motion, Gostkowski may have negatively impacted his field goal kicking. Specifically, he said that Gostkowski was “not following through and letting the ball drift on him” resulting in his kicks veering to the right.
If Bill Belichick has concerns about Gostkowski’s kicking, he isn’t letting it show.
“Stephen’s one of our hardest working players, and I’d say, one of the most respected players on the team because of the way he does work and how team-oriented he is,” said Belichick in last Sunday’s post-game press conference.
“Whatever we’ve asked him to do, whether it be the training things or kickoffs or situations, the amount of field goals where we’ve multiple holders and snappers over the course of his career. He does a great job of working with those guys and just working to make the operation better and more consistent. We’ll keep doing that just like we do with everything else in our program.”
While the team’s support of him is admirable, the onus is squarely on Gostkowski to get things right again — and quickly.