FOXBORO, Mass. — It’s incredibly difficult to win in the playoffs without a reliable kicker.
On the penultimate weekend of the regular season, it became clear the New England Patriots have one.
Veteran journeyman Nick Folk drilled all three of his field-goal attempts — including a season-long 51-yarder — and his lone extra point Saturday night to help the Patriots to a 24-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium.
In six games over two stints with New England this season, Folk is 13-for-16 on field goals and a perfect 9-for-9 on extra points. Two of his three misses came from 40-plus yards out in a driving rainstorm, and the third was blocked.
“Nick’s been hitting the ball well,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after Saturday’s win. “I thought that last week, the first week back (after missing one game following an appendectomy), he was maybe just a little under 100 percent. But he had a real good week this week and put the ball high and right down the middle.”
Folk’s 51-yard field goal put the Patriots ahead 13-10 with five minutes gone in the third quarter. That Belichick trusted him to even attempt that kick spoke volumes.
Belichick had little faith in the injured Stephen Gostkowski’s initial replacement, Mike Nugent, passing up seven kicks between 37 and 53 yards during Nugent’s four-week stay in Foxboro. The Patriots entered the week as one of just two NFL teams (along with the New York Giants) without a 50-plus-yard field-goal try this season.
Folk, who hadn’t played an NFL game in more than two years when the Patriots signed him in late October, now has attempted eight kicks from 40-plus, converting from 40, 42, 44, 46 and 51.
“Those are big kicks, especially in a tight game like this, and he’s really come through for us,” Belichick said. “I mean, obviously, (punter Jake Bailey) has come through all year for us, but Nick’s really come through here in the last half of the season.”