Matter Of Trust
NUMBERS BEAR IT OUT: YOU CAN TRUST GOSTKOWSKI
Few aspects of football are sufficiently encapsulated in numerical data, but kicking is among them. A simple scan of recent statistics pertaining to Stephen Gostkowski suggest he isn't just a player the Patriots can trust to make a big kick, but a weapon in the fourth quarter.
The 42-yard miss Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals was Gostkowski's first ever during the fourth quarter at home (he was previously 21-of-21), and the first kick he had missed in the fourth quarter in any venue in 39 tries.
To boot, Gostkowksi is the most accurate kicker in Patriots franchise history, and eighth overall in league annals with an 84.483 percent success rate. That total eclipses former Patriot Adam Vinatieri, the measuring stick for clutch kickers in all of football.
On top of the statistically driven confidence in Gostkowski, ardent support from his teammates on Sunday affirmed that they have complete faith in his ability. Like any player, a kicker has his off-moments or off-days. For Gostkowksi, one untimely miss overshadowed what was on its way to becoming one of his fine outings as a pro, which included kicks of 53, 51 and 46 yards earlier in the game.
Although Gostkowski doesn't have a signature kick on his résumé (like his predecessor), he has proven over time that he is among the most reliable kickers across the league. The way for him to rebuild whatever confidence he may have lost from fans on Sunday is to return to action and do what he normally does, which is connect between the uprights every time he's called upon -- including late in the fourth quarter.
Field Yates covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
GOSTKOWSKI HAS SHOWN HE IS NO VINATIERI
Survey time: In recent NFL history, name the first "clutch" kickers who come to mind.
Adam Vinatieri ... and?
Truth is, Vinatieri is in a league of his own. He is the clutch kicker. Bill Belichick once called him the best player on the 2001 Patriots team. He wanted Super Bowl XXXVI to come down to his best player. And Vinatieri pulled through.
Stephen Gostkowski? In Super Bowl XLII, Belichick went for it on fouth-and-13 from the Giants' 31 instead of opting for Gostkowski's right foot. That was in the third quarter -- yes, when the Patriots could more afford to take the risk -- but also at a less pressure-packed part of that championship game.
Nearly five years later, Gostkowski had a chance Sunday to prove he was ready to make the jump from "accurate NFL kicker" to "clutch NFL game-winner." He didn't pull through, the way Vinatieri did three times in two playoff games during that 2001 season. Mid-September in New England doesn't even come close to what Vinatieri faced in those contests.
Gostkowski is locked up through 2014 and is one of the best kickers in the league. The Washington Redskins, who cycle through kickers more than perhaps any team in the league, would love to have him. And the Patriots certainly won't be dumping Gostkowski like the New York Jets did Doug Brien after his failures in the 2004 playoffs.
But Gostkowski is no Vinatieri, the only kicker Belichick truly could trust with a game, and perhaps the season, on the line. Until he has no other choice, expect Belichick to try to win the game with one of his best few players, which unlike 2001, isn't a group that includes his kicker.
Mike Rodak covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.