New England Patriots: Stephen Gostkowski

Patriots from a fantasy perspective

May, 20, 2014
May 20
PM ET's fantasy football staff has unveiled its top 200 player rankings and here is a look at where the top Patriots fall in the list:

35. TE Rob Gronkowski (third at position)
58. RB Shane Vereen (26th at position)
61. WR Julian Edelman (24th at position)
66. RB Stevan Ridley (28th at position)
97. WR Danny Amendola (42nd at position)
111. QB Tom Brady (12th at position)
136. WR Aaron Dobson (51st at position)
148. Patriots defense/special teams (ninth as a unit)
152. K Stephen Gostkowski (second at position)
170. WR Brandon LaFell (57th at position)

As the piece notes, these rankings are based on a 10-team ESPN standard league with 16-player rosters, starting one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one flex (RB/WR/TE), a team defense and a kicker.

Any objections?

Recapping Patriots in the Pro Bowl

January, 26, 2014
Jan 26
The Pro Bowl is in the books, and it was a relatively quiet one from a Patriots perspective.

The Patriots had three players participate -- left guard Logan Mankins, special teams captain Matthew Slater and kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Two others, quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Aqib Talib, were original selections who didn't participate.

Mankins and Slater were original selections and were part of "Team Sanders" as they donned gray uniforms in the new non-conferenced format. Gostkowski, who was a replacement for Broncos kicker Matt Prater, was part of "Team Rice" (white jerseys).

Our biggest takeaway from a Patriots perspective?

Mankins has shaved his beard, which had generated notable momentum by the playoffs. No word on if that was a game-time decision.

He showed up a few times getting out in front on screen plays, touching down a defender after a lost fumble by running back Alfred Morris in the second quarter, and giving up a sack to Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

With no kickoffs in the game, Gostkowski was called upon for point-after attempts and clanged a 53-yard field goal off the right upright in the fourth quarter. We only saw Slater on the punt return and punt coverage units.

The new Pro Bowl format led to a more competitive game, with "Team Rice" winning 22-21.

Players on the winning team earn $53,000, while those on the losing side get $26,000.

Cleaning out the Patriots notebook

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
Cleaning out the New England Patriots notebook:

Imagine Scarnecchia coaching the Jets: Fun interview this morning to listen to retiring Patriots assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia on the “D&C Show” on sports radio WEEI. Scarnecchia was asked about coaching on the Patriots' staff for 30 years and he expressed how fortunate he was to do so despite numerous head coaching changes. He also revealed that Bill Parcells asked him to come to the Jets with him in 1997, but he declined because his daughter was still in high school at the time and he didn’t want to leave the area. A John Hannah/Logan Mankins comparison and thoughts on what makes Bill Belichick a special coach were among the other highlights.

Gruden on what Patriots need in 2014: In a radio interview on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” program earlier this week, Jon Gruden was asked about the Patriots’ top needs for 2014. After mentioning a return to health for key players, he said: “There’s no question they need to address their receiving corps. I don’t know that [Danny] Amendola, [Julian] Edelman, the cast of receivers, has enough firepower to take you the distance."

Parcells on Wes Welker/Aqib Talib play: In a radio interview on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” program earlier this week, Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Parcells was asked his thoughts on the hit that knocked Talib out of the AFC Championship Game. “These things happen a little bit in football,” he said. “On these crossing and rub plays and picks, the guy that is going over the top, much like in basketball, is kind of the screen setter, and he’s the one trying to pick off the defensive player on the player coming underneath. So the only thing you can question is ‘What was Welker’s intent when he went at Talib?’ I don’t know the answer to that. Obviously Bill thinks it was malicious intent. If it was malicious intent, that’s a lot different than running just a pick play.”

Patriots returning to the playoffs in 2014: In an Insider piece now posted on Insider, Mike Sando ranks the 12 playoff teams from 2013 who are most likely to return to the playoffs next season. He has the Patriots ranked at No. 1 and explains why.

Edelman & Ninkovich on ‘All-Joe’ team: USA Today’s “All-Joe” team is an annual good read, highlighting unsung players in the NFL. Patriots receiver Julian Edelman and defensive end Rob Ninkovich earn a mention.

Gostkowski hopes to preserve the extra point: Count Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski among those who disagree with head coach Bill Belichick on eliminating the extra point.

Stephen Gostkowski added to Pro Bowl

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
DENVER -- With Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater participating in the Super Bowl, New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been tabbed as his replacement for the Pro Bowl.

Gostkowski, who just concluded his eighth season, finished first in the NFL with 158 total points, which was a single-season career-high and a Patriots team record. He was 38-of-41 on field goal attempts.

Since joining the Patriots as a fourth-round draft choice in 2006, he has connected on 85.6 percent of his regular-season field goal attempts.

One of his highlights in 2013 was a successful onside kick to help cap a dramatic comeback over the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 8. His strong leg was also a factor with kickoffs, as his 65 touchbacks ranked second in the NFL.

Gostkowski boots big in win

January, 12, 2014
Jan 12
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Call it beginner's luck, or perhaps call it practice making nearly perfect.

Either way, when Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski took the field some 15 yards behind long snapper Danny Aiken -- as he filled in for punter Ryan Allen, who had left the game with a shoulder injury -- the end result was better than anyone could have reasonably asked for: a 53-yard punt that helped to flip the field position.

[+] EnlargeAllen
Stan Grossfeld/Getty ImagesPunter Ryan Allen was hit hard and injured when he recovered a botched snap and tried to run with it. He never returned to the game.
“I guess all those years of screwing around in practice paid off,” Gostkowski joked in the locker room following his team’s resounding win over the Colts.

The veteran kicker revealed that he had never punted in a game before, speaking about the difference between having to handle punting duties in game action as compared to practice, where he routinely works as the team’s substitute punter for the just-in-case scenario the Patriots ran into on Saturday night.

“It’s a lot different,” he said. “I was just worried about catching it and getting it off. That’s the first time I’ve ever punted in a game in my life. It was just a challenge and luckily I didn’t let it get me nervous, I kind of felt pretty comfortable out there, I don’t know how. I think getting off a good first punt kind of helped too.”

In total, Gostkowski had five punts, averaging 41.8 yards per, though that number is skewed because the Patriots sent him out to punt late in the game from the Colts’ 26-yard line (rather than sending the field goal team -- with Tom Brady as the holder -- onto the field).

Allen left the game shortly after a bizarre play in which Aiken sailed a snap over his head, causing Allen to retreat toward his end zone and scramble to pick up the ball and improvise. The eventual result was a safety, an injury for Allen, Gostkowski stepping into a punting role and Brady on tap as the team’s new holder -- a duty Allen normally holds.

“It's been a while since I’ve done that,” Brady said of holding. “I was happy to help the team. Maybe I’ll try renegotiating my contract or something for doing more work.”

Just how long has it been since Brady held?

“I think it was when I played in the Orange Bowl 14 or 15 years ago,” he said. “I don't even do it in practice. They said, ‘Get in there and do it,’ and I said, ‘What do I say?’ But we figured it out.”

The extent of Allen’s injury is unknown, but with the Patriots set to play again in just eight days, the team may need to invest in another punter if Allen is unable to play.

Should that be the case, one option that the Patriots don’t have is to re-sign Zoltan Mesko, who was let go by the team at the end of training camp. Though Mesko signed just a one-year deal with the Bengals prior to their Wild Card playoff game, during which they were eliminated, the contract will not officially expire until the end of the league year (which is after the Super Bowl), meaning he is ineligible to be signed.

The team did work out two punters during the season, Shawn Powell and Robert Malone, both who remain free agents and could be of interest this week.

That’s to be determined, but for now the Patriots are happy to have had Gostkowski’s right foot on their side in a pinch.

Ups and downs for the Patriots

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At an initial glance, a look at who is "up" and who is at the opposite end of the spectrum in the New England Patriots' divisional-round playoff win against the Colts:

LeGarrette Blount -- Running back totals four touchdowns, including a 73-yard scoring jaunt in the fourth quarter. The four rushing touchdowns sets a franchise record as the offensive line, tight ends and fullback James Develin also get a tip of the cap for opening the holes.

Jamie Collins -- Rookie linebacker rises up to the challenge with extended opportunity after Brandon Spikes is placed on season-ending injured reserve, as Collins is all over the field.

Alfonzo Dennard/Aqib Talib -- Starting cornerbacks don't win every one-on-one challenge, but are generally up to the task as Talib lines up across from T.Y. Hilton consistently and Dennard opens the game with a big interception and ends the game with one as well.

Stephen Gostkowski -- Kicker does an admirable job filling in for injured punter Ryan Allen.

Danny Aiken -- Snapper fires a delivery over the head of punter Ryan Allen in the second quarter that results in a safety.

Kyle Arrington -- Nickel cornerback is replaced by rookie Logan Ryan near the end of the second quarter after having some struggles in the slot.

Devin McCourty -- As the last line of defense, second-team All-Pro safety lets LaVon Brazill get behind him for a 35-yard touchdown.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing thoughts on the New England Patriots' 43-22 divisional-round playoff victory Saturday over the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for the eighth time in Bill Belichick's 14 years as head coach, which continues a remarkable run of success for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Many of the faces around them have changed over the years, but Belichick and Brady have been the constants, and one could make a case this has been their most impressive season as a tandem. The Patriots have been hit as hard by injuries as any team in the NFL, but they've willed their way to put themselves in position to win their first Super Bowl championship since the 2004 season.

Running game sparks attack again: For the third consecutive game, the Patriots' ground attack was the difference-maker, led by hard-charging LeGarrette Blount (franchise-record four rushing touchdowns). The Patriots split snaps at running back evenly among Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and sliced up the Colts with strong work up front by the offensive line -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Marcus Cannon -- as well as tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin. When the Patriots run it like this, it brings back memories of the 2004 Super Bowl championship team for which bruiser Corey Dillon was the lead back.

Injuries to monitor: Punter Ryan Allen left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski handled the punting duties, and Brady handled the holder responsibilities as part of the field-goal operation. If Allen is unavailable in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots would almost certainly bring in another punter. Former Patriot Zoltan Mesko isn't an option, as he punted for the Bengals in the playoffs and isn't eligible to join another team. ... Elsewhere, rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury (presumably a concussion) and did not return. Veteran Austin Collie was his replacement.

Stock watch: Jamie Collins -- up. The Patriots' top pick in the 2013 draft (52nd overall) was thrust into an expanded role, in part because linebacker Brandon Spikes was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week. Collins had played just 25 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season, but he didn't come off the field and made his presence felt as a tackler, pass-rusher and in coverage with an interception. He was all over the field in what was a coming out party for the ultra-athletic defender from Southern Mississippi.

What's next: The Patriots will play in the AFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday's game between the visiting San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos (4:40 p.m. ET). If Denver beats San Diego, the AFC Championship Game will be played in Denver. If San Diego beats Denver, the AFC Championship Game will be played in New England. Regardless of location, the game will be played at 3 p.m. ET next Sunday.

Quick hits from Pats locker room

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
With kickoff Saturday night, the Patriots will use Friday as a walkthrough day and tie up any loose ends in their preparation for the Colts.

There will be no media access, as the players spoke with reporters for the final time on Thursday afternoon.

Below are a few highlights from Gillette:

Gostkowski’s pregame routine. Many sports fans and young athletes grow up visualizing a signature moment, be it catching a touchdown or hitting a free throw at the professional level.

As it turns out, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has a routine he follows before each game that includes visualizing himself making kicks.

“I always just try to visualize myself doing well and not getting overexcited or too hyped up in the moment,” he said, before adding lightheartedly, “Most of those guys are banging heads. I’m trying to like listen to Enya before the game to calm myself down. All I do is just try to -- the worst thing you can do in situations where, for me personally, where the situation gets bigger is get too excited.”

The veteran kicker added that he watches cut-ups of previous kicks that he has made to help put himself in a positive frame of mind before games.

Mankins talks beards. Guard Logan Mankins is currently sporting a thick beard, as he often has in the past. It stacks up with almost any other on the team, perhaps trailing only defensive end Rob Ninkovich's in terms of thickness.

“Rob, he’s got a nice beard,” Mankins said of his teammate’s facial hair, before joking. “I think he’s got some PEDs in there or something, but it looks good.”

Beards have become a popular look among Boston sports teams of late, with the Red Sox recently generating plenty of buzz for their bearded look during their 2013 World Series winning season.

“Those guys, they looked good,” Mankins said of the Sox. “Especially the ones with grey in [them]. Those ones are always my favorites.”

Amendola ready for postseason debut. While many Patriots are veterans of the postseason, this marks wide receiver Danny Amendola's first trip.

Asked Thursday if he anticipates the game will feel any different than a regular-season contest, Amendola said, “I’m ready. I’m ready to get going. It’s playoff time, you know?”

Reaching the postseason was one of the first goals laid out for Amendola and his team at the beginning of the season.

“We have a goal at the beginning of the year to make the playoffs, wherever you are,” he said. “You work just as hard throughout the year. We put a lot of hard work in this year -- overcame a lot of obstacles and adversity. So, we’re all ready to go and we’re all excited.”

Gostkowski takes blame for bad kickoff

December, 15, 2013
MIAMI -- New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski took the blame for his kickoff that sailed out of bounds, giving the Miami Dolphins the ball at the 40-yard line to set up their game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots had just scored to go ahead 20-17 with 4:07 remaining when Gostkowski, who has been a star performer in the two games leading into Sunday, made the uncharacteristic mistake.

“It was just a case of over-kicking and trying to kill the ball. It was not a good kick at all,” Gostkowski said following the Patriots’ 24-20 loss. “It was terrible timing. It’s a play I definitely wish I could take back. It stinks to lose and stinks to have an effect on the game like that.”

The play, reminiscent of Carolina kicker John Kasay’s miscue in Super Bowl XXXVIII that helped the Patriots win in thrilling fashion, likely had an effect on the Dolphins’ play-calling. The Dolphins faced fourth-and-5 from their own 45-yard line and successfully went for it, a decision they might not have made if they were at their 25.

Gostkowski, who had field goals of 22 and 23 yards, explained that he wasn’t in control as he struck the ball. Earlier in the game, he missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt wide left.

“I felt like I hit it pretty well and the wind was blowing left to right all day, and I played it left-middle,” he said. “I felt like I hit it right where I aimed and it just kind of leaked left a little.

“It’s upsetting. There are very few times when I feel like I hit a good kick and I miss. Usually you just hit a crappy kick. I felt like I put a good swing on it, it was a good operation. Today just wasn’t our day and it stinks to play terrible and you lose. It’s like pouring salt on the wound.”

Ups and downs for the Patriots

December, 15, 2013
MIAMI -- At an initial glance, a look at which players were "up" in the Patriots' game against the Dolphins and those at the opposite end of the spectrum:


Julian Edelman: On the field where he broke his foot last year, receiver delivers with another big game.

Michael Hoomanawanui: Tight end's 13-yard, one-handed touchdown grab late in the second quarter is one for the highlight reel.

Aqib Talib: Cornerback who often aligns on the inside part of the field, likely with the idea of taking away the Dolphins' middle-of-the-field passing game, isn't heard from often.


Josh Boyce: Rookie receiver can't come up with two catches against tight coverage, one of which came in the end zone.

Marquice Cole/Steve Gregory: Defensive backs are in coverage on Mike Wallace's 39-yard catch-and-run touchdown at the end of the second quarter.

Dane Fletcher: Linebacker is flagged for a critical pass-interference penalty on third down late in the third quarter.

Stephen Gostkowski: After the Patriots go ahead 20-17, sends his kickoff out of bounds, giving the Dolphins the ball at the 40.

Clutch Gostkowski draws Belichick's praise

December, 10, 2013
The New England Patriots have come from behind in each of their past three games, overcoming double-digit second-half deficits on each occasion.

Down by 10 or more points in the second half means the margin for error on both offense and defense is slim, and the same can be said in the kicking game.

Not to be overlooked in the recent weeks is the performance of kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who has field goals of 50, 53 and 53 yards to go along with a perfectly executed onside kick to give his team the ball and the chance to win on Sunday against Cleveland.

These kicks have been the latest in what has been a terrific season for the eighth-year pro, who has missed just two of 32 field goals and already has 125 points.

One could even argue that these two weeks have been as clutch as Gostkowski has performed at any point in his career, and they earned him heavy praise from coach Bill Belichick during a Tuesday conference call.

"He’s had a couple of pretty clutch weeks," he said. "I think it would be hard to be much more clutch than that. I think you hit it on the head. So much of whatever a kicker does is just based on opportunity. You don’t know -- you have to be ready but you don’t know when you come to the stadium whether you’re going to be kicking field goals, kicking extra points, not kicking at all, onside kicking and so forth. Some of that is just by opportunity. You get into game-winning situations or onside kick situations -- when is the last time we’ve onside kicked like that?

"So, it’s infrequent but when it comes up, it means everything," Belichick continued. "That’s really all the more impressive. I think part of it for Steve is just not only did he get it done, but it was a very infrequent play and it was at the most critical time and without it, we wouldn’t have won. All those things are impressive."

Improbable is commonplace for Patriots

December, 8, 2013

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen saved his best analysis for Twitter, because it was really the only way to describe what had unfolded Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

If Vereen doesn’t know how to explain it, how possibly can we? After all, he was one of the star performers in the Patriots’ improbable 27-26 comeback victory over the Cleveland Browns. The team was behind by 12 points with 2:39 remaining only to charge back with two touchdowns in a span of 30 seconds.

How is this stuff happening to this team?

How can they play so poorly for stretches of games, only to pull it out in the end -- the heart-stopping finishes since mid-October coming against the New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and most recently the Browns. We also could include the Miami Dolphins, although that wasn’t as much of a nail-biter after the Patriots fell behind 17-3 at halftime but did their best comeback work in the third quarter before pulling away late.

It has been repeated that slow starts and playing down to their competition eventually will catch up to the Patriots, but it hasn’t happened yet. So it can now decisively be said about the 10-3 Patriots: They are flawed, and a feared torn ACL for star tight end Rob Gronkowski on Sunday puts a major dent in their Super Bowl hopes, but their most redeeming quality is their resilience.

If you’re going to beat them, you have to knock them out, which they proved again Sunday -- with a little help from a questionable 29-yard pass-interference penalty on the winning drive.

[+] EnlargeShane Vereen
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesRunning back Shane Vereen looked more like a wide receiver with 12 catches for 153 yards.
“That’s the attitude of our team, we’re not done until the clock says zero,” said Vereen, who has “RB” in front of his name on the roster but was more “WR” with 12 receptions for 153 yards Sunday. “Down but never out. When you have Tom [Brady] as your quarterback, you know you’ve always got a shot.”

The Patriots looked like toast Sunday against a four-win Browns team, facing a 26-14 deficit with 2:39 remaining after Cleveland scored a touchdown. Then the improbable happened.

“We had to make just about every play we made at the end and fortunately we did,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Usually when you put yourself in that kind of situation it doesn’t always happen that way. If one thing goes wrong, then it doesn’t work out.”

The final tally: 11 passes, one run, one spike to stop the clock, one debatable pass-interference call and one brilliant onside kick, followed by a five-play defensive “stand” as the Browns’ final 58-yard field goal to the open and often-harder-to-kick-toward side of the stadium fell short.

Of the final plays, the onside kick was most rare when considering it was the first time in franchise history the Patriots have recovered one and converted the ensuing possession into a game-winning score, according to Bob Hyldburg, the author of the book “Total Patriots.” Prior to Sunday, the only other time the Patriots recovered an onside kick in any victory was on Sept. 27, 1964.

The Patriots lined six players to the right of kicker Stephen Gostkowski and four to his left. As Gostkowski approached the ball, two players from both sides came in motion toward him before charging forward with Gostkowski, who gently struck the ball in front of him and ran in front of it before sliding to shade any oncoming Browns.


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The play called the “middle bunt” looked like the perfect call based on the way Cleveland was aligned, with five players up on one side, and three on the other, with a sizable hole between the hash marks where Gostkowski kicked it.

“Huge, huge kick by Steve,” Belichick said of Gostkowski, who last weekend nailed two 53-yard field goals in the fourth quarter -- to tie and win -- in a 34-31 comeback over the Texans.

“I slid and saw that the ball was just about to be 10 [yards] and I kind of waited,” Gostkowski explained. “That’s the thing -- I kick it, try to get in front of it, and slide and it’s supposed to fall right to me.”

The difference on this one was that Browns running back Fozzy Whittaker made contact with Gostkowski, hit the ball, and it bounced to Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington. Not exactly the way it was drawn up, but they’ll take it, of course.

“Just a great play; I’ve never been that jacked up after a game,” said Gostkowski, now in his eighth season. “I don’t celebrate too much after field goals, but when we get an onside kick, I was all over the place. I probably looked like an idiot out there.”

The rest was up to Brady, who threw for 418 yards, and as Belichick said after the game, “We’ve seen Tom do this many times before. I think it’s probably all been said before.”

It has, although we can’t quite remember a season like this one, where the Patriots can look like one of the worst teams in the NFL for long stretches before producing a dramatic are-you-kidding-me-type comeback. Similar to most of their other comebacks in 2013, this one seemed implausible -- down 12 with 2:39 to play and just one timeout.

“It didn’t look good there, but we’re going to keep fighting,” Brady acknowledged. “Sometimes you may come up short, but it’s not going to be lack of effort or toughness. We showed we have some of that.”

It is, in fact, this flawed team’s most redeeming quality.

Patriots' win left a lot to digest

December, 8, 2013
Two storylines -- an improbable come-from-behind win and news that tight end Rob Gronkowski may have torn his ACL -- dominated the headlines for the Patriots on Sunday, but there was plenty more to account for after the team’s 10th win.

Here's a look at the other storylines to emerge from the game:

Pats keep pace in playoff hunt. Although the Patriots did not clinch a playoff berth on Sunday (because both the Ravens and Dolphins won), they remain three games up in the division and still hold the AFC’s second-best record. They can clinch an AFC East crown with a win Sunday in Miami.

[+] EnlargeStephen Gostkowski
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesStephen Gostkowski reacts after his onside kick put the Patriots in position for the winning score.
Ridley returns. Running back Stevan Ridley returned to the lineup on Sunday, recording eight carries, tied with LeGarrette Blount for most on the team. That’s a positive step for Ridley in his attempt to work back into a prominent running back role.

Vereen shines. Running back Shane Vereen had a record-setting day, establishing franchise bests for running backs with 12 catches and 153 receiving yards. He’s been a critical offensive cog since his return in Week 11.

Gostkowski helps out again. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski came through in a big way again, drilling a 50-yard field goal and executing a strong onside kick late in the game to give his team the ball back and the chance to win. Said Danny Amendola of the onside kick, “It was fantastic. Those specialists work so hard on their craft and kicks, and I’m sure Gost was really excited about it. It was a big play -- play of the game.”

Gordon bothers secondary. A primary concern for the Patriots' secondary coming into the game was Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon shined again, besting Aqib Talib in man coverage for an 80-yard score and finishing with 151 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Late flag comes into focus. Browns cornerback Leon McFadden was flagged for pass interference late in the game, a call that gave the Patriots the ball at Cleveland’s 1-yard line. McFadden didn’t appear to make much contact on the play, saying after the game, “I didn’t feel like there was pass interference, but all I can do is go back and look at the film and make corrections.”

Siliga for Sopoaga. The Patriots made something of a personnel shift on defense, with second-year defensive tackle Sealver Siliga playing over veteran Isaac Sopoaga. Sopoaga didn’t enter the game until the fourth quarter, playing minimal snaps. Siliga notched six tackles in total.

Brady (quietly?) goes over 400 yards. If such a thing as a quiet 400-yard passing performance exists, Tom Brady accomplished it on Sunday. Brady threw for 418 yards, his second-highest total of the season. He added two touchdown passes, upping his total to 21 for the season.

Belichick extends record streak. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has led his team to 11 straight seasons with 10 or more wins, extending his own NFL record. The Patriots also improved to 41-6 in December since 2001, best in the NFL.

Ups and downs for the Patriots

December, 8, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At an initial glance, a look at which New England Patriots players were "up" in Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, and those at the opposite end of the spectrum:


Ryan Allen: Punter continues to excel from a situational standpoint; his 53-yarder in the first quarter reflects his strong work.

Stephen Gostkowski: Kicker hits a long field goal and then executes perfectly on an onside kick to set up the game-winning touchdown drive.

Shane Vereen: Running back is the team's best skill-position player, at one point making all three plays on a 72-yard scoring drive.


Coaching staff: When a team continues to come out flat in the first half, it starts with the coaching staff.

Nate Solder and offensive line: Left tackle is beaten for a sack and later a pressure, which highlights some overall struggles up front in pass protection.

Aqib Talib/Devin McCourty/Steve Gregory: Patriots give up touchdown passes of 80 and 40 yards after breakdowns in the secondary. While there is some good play in the secondary, those two plays are big in a low-scoring game.

Gostkowski kicks power Patriots' comeback

December, 1, 2013

HOUSTON -- Ryan Allen was a junior at West Salem (Oregon) High School in 2006 when the New England Patriots drafted Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round as the replacement for arguably the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history, Adam Vinatieri.

So the rookie punter and holder on field goals knows little about what NFL life has been like for Gostkowski, especially in the early years. There were some shaky moments.

“You can see how calm and collected he always is. He’s a veteran player and he carries himself that way,” said Allen, who had the best close-up view of Gostkowski during Sunday’s 34-31 victory over the Houston Texans in which he drilled two clutch 53-yard field goals in the fourth quarter.

“It shows he’s mentally stronger than most. It’s amazing to watch how composed and confident he is, no matter the conditions or if he’s had a rough day.”

On a day in which the Patriots weren’t at their best and had to scrape past a two-win Texans team that has now lost 10 games in a row, this might have been Gostkowski’s finest NFL hour.

A 53-yard field goal to tie it with 7:16 remaining. Money.

A 53-yard field goal to take the lead with 3:12 remaining. Money.

They weren’t end-of-game heroics, but in terms of degree of difficulty, it was about as tough of a fourth-quarter challenge as the affable 29-year-old has faced.

“I take pride in every kick,” Gostkowski said, “but especially kicks in the fourth quarter.”

Gostkowski has five career game-winning field goals -- four in the regular season (2010 and three in 2013) and one in the playoffs (2006 season). They came from 31, 35, 35, 31 and now 53 yards.

Distance-wise, one of them obviously stands out from the rest.

That’s why, of all the storylines that unfolded in Sunday’s closer-than-many-anticipated victory, Gostkowski stood slightly above the rest.

Surely, there will be plenty of discussion about Stevan Ridley as a healthy scratch, his future as the team’s lead running back now at a crossroads because of ball-security issues. The run defense looks like a concern. The slow starts aren’t good. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is a beast and his return to form has changed the complexion of the offense.

But from this perspective, this was a day to highlight Gostkowski’s work more than anything else, his powerful right leg needed by the Patriots perhaps more than at any time over his eight-year career.

“It’s crazy the way games can play out,” he said. “It’s nice to get opportunities to kick long kicks in good weather. It’s tough to make kicks of that distance in December in Foxborough, so you wouldn’t be expected to be called out there for a couple of 53- or 55-yard field goals. Just to be able to do it in the fourth quarter, and when the team needed me to tie it and to put us ahead, it definitely makes it feel a little bit more special after the fact.”

It was clear in pregame warmups that the ball was exploding off Gostkowski’s foot. The retractable roof at Reliant Stadium was open but it still had more of an indoor feel in which his distance appeared to approach about 60 yards.

Still, there were other challenges. Gostkowski said the natural grass surface, patched in certain areas, “kind of stunk” and was elevated in certain areas. So he said he focused on slowing himself down and altered the approach he would normally take on FieldTurf.

“You can’t kick behind the ball because you don’t know what the surface is going to be like. On turf, you can do that and know how your foot is going to slide,” he said. “So you have to be clean and hit a good ball every time.”

Gostkowski felt he did so on a 55-yard attempt in the second quarter that missed, snapping his streak of 21 straight field goals that went back to Sept. 22 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It wasn’t a bad kick, but things have to be pretty much perfect to make a kick from 50 plus. There’s no room for error,” he said. “I knew if I had another opportunity, I was right on it.”

He was, just as he’s been most of the season. Gostkowski has converted 12 field goals of 40 or more yards this season, breaking a Patriots record previously held by Vinatieri.

Just another reminder of the kicker he replaced eight years ago.

There have been some highs and lows along the way. Sunday’s clutch effort was perhaps the highest of them all.