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.
“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.
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.