Seven hundred sixty days.
That’s how long Nick Folk had to wait between his final game as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer in October 2017 and his first as a New England Patriot in November 2019.
Then, he had to wait some more, going unsigned from mid-March until New England brought him back in late August.
That patience has paid off.
In one of the more improbable success stories of this upside-down Patriots season, Folk, who less than two years ago was kicking for the Arizona Hotshots in the short-lived Alliance of American Football, now is performing better than ever at age 36.
And he’s not done yet.
Folk, who’s on pace to set a personal best in field-goal percentage, said Thursday he hopes to continue that career in 2021.
“I had the itch to get back,” Folk said in a video conference. “And now I feel like I’m kicking pretty well. So there’s no inkling in me that wants to stop. I enjoy this. I enjoy the guys, I enjoy my teammates playing football. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy kicking. So I want to keep going, want to keep playing. … I still have a lot of leg in me.”
Folk performed well last season as New England’s third choice behind an injured Stephen Gostkowski and the ineffective Mike Nugent. But once the offseason arrived, the Patriots appeared ready to move on. They cut Gostkowski, allowed Folk to reach free agency and then used a fifth-round draft pick on Justin Rohrwasser, making him the first kicker selected.
It was only after Rohrwasser — who was not considered a premier prospect entering the draft — struggled mightily in training camp that New England re-signed Folk. He easily won the starting job over the overmatched rookie but looked rusty early in the season, missing his first two field-goal attempts.
Since then, he’s been nearly perfect.
Folk has converted each of his last 25 field-goal tries. He’s hit 92.6 percent of his field goals through 15 games (tied for seventh-best in the NFL) and gone 26-for-28 on extra points, missing one in Week 3 and another in Week 10.
Folk has posted a field-goal percentage above 90 percent just twice in his 13-year NFL career and not since 2013, when he made a career-best 91.7 percent of his kicks.
“I feel pretty good,” Folk said. “I’m obviously in a great rhythm with (punter) Jake (Bailey) and (long snapper) Joe (Cardona). They do a great job of getting the ball where it needs to be so I can put it through, and I think that’s a big component into going into this. And then I feel healthy, which is always a big thing now. So I’m good on that front, and I just kind of trying to keep a good rhythm, keep good tempo, and just try to make those kicks.”
Included in those 25 consecutive makes were two last-second game-winners: 51 yards against the New York Jets in Week 9 and 50 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12. Both kicks earned Folk AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
?Nick?s really fallen into a good grove,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “… He?s done a great job for us. He?s been very dependable and consistent. … Those balls that you see in the games is what it looks like in practice, too. He hits it straight, right down the middle and has been very consistent all year. Not that it was ever bad, but I?d say it?s even gotten a little bit better. His consistency has just been outstanding over the last couple of months.?
It’s unclear how the Patriots plan to approach the kicker position next season. Folk is set to hit free agency again in March. Rohrwasser has spent the entire season on the practice squad and likely will get another to compete for the job this summer. The Patriots also reportedly hosted 2016 second-round flame-out Roberto Aguayo for a free agent visit earlier this week.
It would be hard, though, to beat the consistency Folk has provided this season. And he has every intention of kicking in 2021.
“The Patriots called in the middle of last season and, luckily enough, took a shot on me,” Folk said. “I’m just trying to repay them for taking that shot and having confidence in me doing my part. It’s been a fun journey. You know, ups and downs all the way along the road. But I definitely want to continue the journey.”