FOXBORO, Mass. — In case the record hasn’t been set straight already, the New England Patriots don’t blame Stephen Gostkowski for their loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.
The Patriots kicker’s first missed extra point since 2006 came back to haunt New England after the team failed to convert a 2-point conversion near the end of regulation, and Gostkowski was very hard on himself after the game. But head coach Bill Belichick came to his kicker’s defense Monday morning, and special teams captain Matthew Slater followed suit with probably the strongest endorsement a teammate could give.
“This football team wouldn’t be where it is or what it is without Stephen,” Slater said Monday. “You guys have seen his body of work, not only this year, but throughout his career. So, for anyone to say that Stephen is the reason that we lost that game, it’s ridiculous.
“We back Stephen fully. I still personally feel like he’s the best kicker in our league. Those things happen. It’s football. It’s not a perfect game.”
Gostkowki’s statistics back up Slater’s claim. The 31-year-old led the entire NFL in scoring for the fourth consecutive season and converted 91.7 percent of his field goals (33 for 36) to earn his fourth Pro Bowl bid.
Gostkowski’s numbers speak for themselves, but the veteran kicker also made a profound impact on a fellow special teamer. Rookie long snapper Joe Cardona, who balanced playing for the Patriots with his duties as an officer in the U.S. Navy, said Monday he learned a lot from how Gostkowski handled himself after Sunday’s loss.
“Steve’s a great man, without a doubt,” Cardona said. “Great mentor. He’s the best in the world at what he does. The way that he came out and owned it, that’s really inspiring to me. (That’s a) true example of leadership, and something that I’ll never forget.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Imags