Stephen Gostkowski lined up for a 57-yard field goal during
warm-ups on Sunday afternoon and he sent the ball sailing right on through the
uprights. With a career long of just 53 yards, which he tied on Sunday,
Gostkowski was expectedly ecstatic.
About four hours later and 15 yards closer, the ever-reliable Gostkowski was face down on the turf at Gillette Stadium filled with very
different feelings this time around.
After making four field goals on the afternoon, three of
which were longer than 45 yards, and providing the majority of the Patriots
offense, Gostkowski lined up for the game winner. With just six seconds left in
a two-point game, the kicker approached the 42-yard field goal with a great
deal of poise and confidence. Unfortunately, that didn't exactly translate into
Gostkowski pushed the game-winning attempt wide left and crushed
the Patriots hopes at finishing off the big comeback win. A visibly disappointed
Gostkowski held himself accountable for the miss afterward.
"You get an opportunity like that not very often and I
have to do a better job of coming through for the team," Gostkowski said.
"There's probably not another game where I'd be more confident going out
for a kick like that. It humbles you really quickly."
The humbled kicker didn't run from the haunting miss after
the game, standing tall and answering every question reporters slung his way.
The moment is a difficult reality to face and one that causes other players,
like Red Sox pitcher Alfredo Aceves, to bolt from the locker room before having
to deal with such tough questioning. But in moments like that, it becomes even
more evident that Gostkowski's value in New England is far greater than the
embarrassment of any missed kick.
Gostkowski is now in his seventh season as the Patriots
go-to guy on special teams, and he's been the epitome of consistency since
taking over the role from Adam Vinatieri in 2006. Gostkowski has made 85 percent
of his field goals — 147 of 173 — for his career and better than 83 percent in
four of his six seasons in the NFL. His two lone seasons below that line were
in his rookie season and his injury-shortened — playing just eight games –
2010 campaign, making 77 percent in both.
Since coming into the league, he's been about as automatic
as any kicker in football. And that's a big reason why Sunday's miss was so
Gostkowski's teammates all seemed surprised by the shanked
kick, but none of them came even remotely close to blaming their kicker for the
20-18 defeat. Tom Brady might have said it best, though, taking the focus away
from Gostkowski's blunder and spreading around the responsibility for the loss.
"You miss kicks, you throw interceptions, you fumble the
ball, you miss tackles. Over the course of a long season, those things
happen," Brady said in his postgame news conference. "There's no one
play that lost the game. We did a lot of things that allowed us to lose this
With a long season still ahead, the Patriots will have
plenty of opportunities to atone for the devastating loss suffered on
Sunday. Wins can't be guaranteed, but
one result that's an almost certainty is that Gostkowski will have a big say in
each outcome. Exactly the way the Patriots should want it.