Stephen Gostkowski missed another field goal on Friday, but Bill Belichick doesn’t need to start worrying about his kicker just yet.
Gostkowski has been the Patriots’ primary place kicker since the team spent a fourth-round pick on him in 2006. For all but eight games — while he sat on injured reserve in 2010 — Gostkowski has been the only one kicking field goals for the Patriots. His job hasn’t been in jeopardy much since entering the NFL, and there isn’t any real reason to expect otherwise now.
After missing a pair of field goals in the Patriots’ preseason opener, Gostkowski added a third miss to his tally on Friday, doinking a 50-yard kick off the right goal post and leaving three points on the field. To his credit, the miss came after a pair of penalties erased his make from 40 and extended the kick by about 10 yards. If the Patriots had just avoided the miscues, any thoughts of concern would be amiss and this entire “struggles” conversation would fall on deaf ears — as it should.
No. Gostkowski isn’t exactly Mr. Automatic. Yes, he’s had his fair share of struggles over the years. But every kicker goes through peaks and valleys, and Gostkowski is just flying a little low right now. Fortunately for him, his head coach is still behind him 100 percent.
“I’m confident that he’s one of the best kickers in the league,” Belichick said, complimenting Gostkowski during a conference call on Saturday.
The seven-year veteran has missed three of his five field goal attempts this preseason, which is an abnormally high number for a guy who’s made better than 84 percent of his attempts in his career. Such inconsistency might normally prompt Belichick to bring in some competition for the 29-year-old, but he also knows that the kicker alone isn’t the only problem on that unit.
“Well, I think our overall field goal operation needs to be better, and he’s a part of that, but so is the snapper and so is the holder,” Belichick said. “We’ve had three different snappers and two different holders in camp and in the preseason games.”
Field goals are a bit of science in the NFL and right now there’s just a lot of instability with the Patriots’ kicking game. Each of the last two seasons, Danny Aiken has been the sole long snapper and Zoltan Mesko the holder. Gostkowski has built up quite the rapport with the duo and seems most comfortable when they’re all on the field together. So far this preseason, Gostkowski has seen Aiken, rookie Matt Zupancic and even defensive end Rob Ninkovich as the long snapper and both Mesko and rookie punter Ryan Allen doing the holding. So there hasn’t been much opportunity to cozy up with a core group.
Even beyond comfort, Gostkowski’s misses haven’t exactly been chip shots either. The three missed field goals have come from 44, 50 and 53 yards respectively. And while nailing those kicks might be an expectation in the regular season, Gostkowski is still working his way through the preseason — just like every other player around the league, which is why Belichick isn’t getting fazed.
“As it relates to Steve specifically, I think he’s had a good camp,” Belichick said. “He’s worked hard and he’s in good condition. He’s kicked the ball well and hit the ball very solidly and consistently. I know that he’ll continue to work hard to do everything that he can, and so will the other people involved in the operation – snapping and holding, however that turns out.”
If the woes wear on in Detroit on Thursday night then maybe these groans and grumblings will deserve a little more credibility. But, in the meantime, all of the worried whispers just seem off target.