FOXBORO, Mass. — Adam Vinatieri would be the one that got away for New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick — if not for Stephen Gostkowski.
The Patriots let Vinatieri walk in free agency way back in 2006 — after helping the Patriots win three Super Bowls — and the All-Pro kicker has stayed with the Indianapolis Colts ever since. The Patriots used a fourth-round pick on Gostkowski in the 2006 NFL draft, and he’s been one of the best kickers in the history of the NFL (seriously), hitting 86.6 percent of his field goals and booting his kickoffs an average of 65.3 yards with an average 22.2 yards per return. Gostkowski’s field goal percentage ranks second all-time.
Vinatieri has converted 85.8 percent of his kicks since joining the Colts. His kickoffs traveled an average of 63 yards throughout his career, and returners brought back his kicks an average of 22.2 yards, though he hasn’t kicked off since 2008, handing those duties off to punter Pat McAfee.
Gotskowski has been ever so slightly better and more versatile than his predecessor, but Belichick still had some high praise for Vinatieri, who’s hit all 20 field goals he’s attempted this season.
“Yeah, he’s really kicking the ball great,” Belichick said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium. “The ball goes perfectly straight. It doesn’t move. It just — every kick is right on the money. You have to try to block it. Waiting for him to miss, you’ll be waiting all day. You have to see if you can somehow affect the kick. Yeah, he’s kicked the ball great, no question.”
Belichick can’t see the 42-year-old kicker retiring anytime soon.
“Right now, I don’t think anybody is kicking better than he is,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of guys kicking good, but I don’t think anybody is kicking any better. He’s in a great, great situation as far as not having to deal with the kickoffs. But as far putting the ball down the middle between the uprights, he’s tremendous. The way he’s kicking now, I don’t see where the end in sight is. Distance isn’t a problem, accuracy’s not a problem. He gets good lift on the ball, not exceptional, but good. He’s kicking in a good environment. He’s drilling them. He looks great.”
Belichick had no interest in discussing Vinatieri’s departure from New England or his relationship with the kicker since 2006.
“Look, I’ve always had a good relationship with Adam,” Belichick said. “The NFL is a business. I’m not trying to write a story for you here, but this isn’t news. There’s free agency every year. Players change teams. We get them. Other guys get our guys.”
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