FOXBORO, Mass. — If there’s one nit the New England Patriots’ coaching staff will pick after Sunday’s steamrolling of the Detroit Lions, it’s the way their Bailey Zappe-led offense finished drives.
The Patriots reached the red zone on four of their offensive possessions. They also had another that made it to Detroit’s 24-yard line. Exactly zero of those drives resulted in touchdowns.
Good thing they had Nick Folk.
Folk, perhaps the most understatedly important player on New England’s roster, capped each of those stalled drives with a field goal. The ever-steady 37-year-old hit from 29, 32, 37, 37 and 44 yards, helping the Patriots cruise to a comfortable 29-0 victory despite finding the end zone just once on offense.
Since joining the Patriots midway through the 2019 season, Folk has converted 90.4% of his field-goal attempts (85 of 94). He’s 10-for-11 thus far in 2022 and has made a staggering 63 consecutive field goals from inside 50 yards, an NFL record.
Head coach Bill Belichick raved about Folk’s reliability after his latest outing, noting the conditions at Gillette Stadium on Sunday were not ideal for kicking.
“Nick is so consistent,” Belichick said in his postgame news conference. “You kind of start to take it for granted, and then you realize how difficult it was. (Sunday) was not an easy day to kick. The wind gusted, and it was blowing straight across the field really from our bench to their bench. When you kick straight into it, you can’t kick it as far, but it goes straight. If you kick with it, it goes further, and it pushes the ball. The crosswind, especially when it gusts, is tough. Nick makes it look so easy.
“Honestly, it’s kind of what it’s like in practice. We’ve got some wind out there, some crazy wind, and the ball goes in between the uprights all the time.”
The Patriots have been blessed with enviable stability at the kicking position throughout the Belichick era, transitioning from Adam Vinatieri to Stephen Gostowski to — after a brief period of chaos following Gostkowski’s 2019 hip injury — Folk, who’s beaten out younger contenders in each of the last three New England training camps. Most NFL teams aren’t so fortunate.
Take the Lions. They’re on their third kicker this season after cutting both Dominik Eberle and Austin Seibert. They had practice squadder Michael Badgley in that role on Sunday. Facing a fourth-and-9 late in the second quarter, head coach Dan Campbell opted to go for it rather than have Badgley attempt a 50-yard field goal that could have cut the Patriots’ lead to 6-3. Matthew Judon proceeded to sack Jared Goff, forcing a fumble that Kyle Dugger returned for a touchdown, and New England never looked back.
The Patriots will need to improve their red-zone execution moving forward. That’s been an issue for them all season, especially early in games. They entered Sunday ranked 21st in the NFL in red-zone conversion rate, and they scored just one touchdown in nine drives Sunday — a 24-yard strike from Bailey Zappe to Jakobi Meyers late in the third quarter — despite moving the ball well throughout the afternoon. Such a performance could have burned them had their defense not neutralized the Lions’ top-ranked offense.
But Belichick knows how lucky the Patriots are to have a kicker like Folk on their side.
“I can’t say enough about Nick Folk,” the Patriots coach said. “He is so professional, so consistent, so dependable. When you stop and think about how hard that job is over the amount of time we’re talking about, it’s really, really impressive.”