FOXBORO, Mass. — Nine kicks, nine makes. All in a night’s work for Stephen Gostkowski.
The veteran kicker played a major role in the New England Patriots’ dramatic 43-40 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, going a perfect 5-for-5 on field goal attempts — including a game-winning 28-yarder as time expired — and 4-for-4 on extra points.
“I definitely felt in a groove on field goals tonight,” Gostkowski said after the game. “Games like this when you get a lot of opportunities, you feel very involved in the game. To me, it makes the job easier. Sometimes the hardest games are when you’re sitting around and you don’t know when you’re going to go out there.
“I’m used to it because we score a lot of points, we have a great offense. You hit the first one and it goes right where you aimed, it’s easy to get on a roll when stuff like that happens.”
Gostkowski hit one field goal in the first quarter, another in the third and three more in a wild fourth quarter that featured 30 total points and two lead changes. His 50-yarder with 3:15 remaining — a season-long for the 34-year-old — put the Patriots ahead by seven before Tyreek Hill tied the score with a 75-yard touchdown catch on the very next play.
“I think that’s a guy that’s definitely taken for granted around here,” special teams Matthew Slater said. “The kicker is a funny position in the league. Nobody really pays attention to you until you start missing kicks. He’s been so reliable and so consistent for the last 13 years.
“We’ve really been fortunate around here to have, in my opinion, two of the all-time great kickers (in Gostkowski and Adam Vinatieri). There’s really no surprise there. He does it in practice, his approach is the same, his mentality never changes, and he came up big for us (Sunday night).”
While Gostkowski was hard at work, punter Ryan Allen was able to take most of the night off. For just the fifth time in franchise history, the Patriots went the entire game without punting.
It wasn’t all positive for New England’s special teams units, however. A poorly executed squib kick by Gostkowski during the first quarter gave the Chiefs the ball at their own 45 and led to a K.C. field goal.
“It was a bad kick,” Gostkowski acknowledged. “It was not very well-executed and I’ll put that one on me.”
The far larger mistake came with just over 10 minutes remaining. Chiefs kick returner Tremon Smith fielded a Gostkowski kickoff at his own goal line and returned it 97 yards to the Patriots’ 4. Three plays later, quarterback Patriots Mahomes found Hill for a 1-yard score.
The Patriots typically boast one of the NFL’s best kick coverage units — they ranked among the top three in kickoff return yards allowed in each of the last three seasons — but they’ve struggled mightily in that area so far in 2018. Opponents are averaging 27.4 yards per kick return through six games, the fourth-worst mark in the league.
“Brutal,” Slater said. “I don’t know what happened. We got to look at that on film. But it was bad. I think we’re a lot better than what we’ve played out there, so we better figure it out quick. I think we have to be better fundamentally. We’ve got to get out of the box and use our hands better. We have to play together and trust it.
“The guy next to us is going to be where he’s supposed to be, and we have to improve. We put our team in a tough spot tonight giving up that return, and they bailed us out.”