FOXBORO, Mass. — Stephen Gostkowski hasn’t appeared in a game for the New England Patriots since late September, but he’s still found ways to help the team.
The veteran kicker has remained involved with Patriots as he recovers from season-ending hip surgery, assisting however he can as New England continues to search for a reliable replacement.
This guidance has been especially beneficial for rookie punter/holder Jake Bailey, who, along with long snapper Joe Cardona, has worked with three different kickers this season. That number will reach four Sunday night when newcomer Kai Forbath makes his Patriots debut against the Houston Texans.
“I can’t say enough good things about Joe,” Bailey said after Friday’s practice. “And Steve’s been around, too, to help me out with all that stuff. I’ve got a lot of good specialist leaders in this room — along with Matt Slater and a bunch of the other guys — and they’re just helping me stay comfortable and stay calm. If anything, they’re just helping me out in practice. That’s where we get all of our mental and physical reps for the week, and that’s where we build confidence.”
Gostkowski, who hosted the 22-year-old Bailey for Thanksgiving at his Wrentham, Mass., home, appeared in the New England’s first four games this season before landing on injured reserve. Mike Nugent initially replaced him but was cut a month later after missing three field goals and an extra point in his four appearances.
Nick Folk — like Nugent, a well-traveled journeyman — was kicker No. 3. He performed relatively well in his first three games as a Patriot (7-for-9 on field goals, with his two misses coming in a driving rainstorm) but underwent an emergency appendectomy Thursday morning, rendering him unavailable for Sunday’s game.
Folk reportedly is expected to make a quick recovery and could be back with the team as soon as next week, but he was released Friday to make room for Forbath, who kicked in just three games last season and hadn’t been on an NFL roster since February.
This is unfamiliar territory for the Patriots, who utilized just three kickers (Adam Vinatieri, Gostkowski and injury fill-in Shayne Graham) over the previous 23 seasons.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Patriots coach Belichick said. “We’ve had a lot of continuity through the years where we’ve been able to keep a snapper, holder and kicker together for multiple years at a time rather than switching them out every year, back and forth. Now, we’ve had some transition, I’m not saying that, but we’ve had sustained periods of four or five years where there hasn’t been a lot of change.
“Unfortunately, there has been this year, but I think those guys (Bailey and Cardona) are doing a great job in minimizing the amount of movement and change. Certainly, having those two guys being consistent makes it a lot easier for the kicker to come and execute.”
Belichick had especially high praise for Bailey, who’s already earned two AFC Special Teams Player of the Week awards and has handled kickoff duties since Gostkowski went down.
“They’ve been great,” the coach said. “Joe’s got a lot of leadership, obviously, and more experience, but Jake’s mature beyond his years. He’s handled everything as well or better than I could imagine anybody at his age and his experience level handling it, from the punts to the field goals to the holding to the kickoffs. He’s done a great job for us. They’ve both played great.”