Bill Belichick: Stephen Gostkowski is like Tom Brady ‘gets a little better each year’
|12.13.13 at 4:17 pm ET|
Gostkowski had the biggest clutch play last Sunday when he perfectly executed an onside kick with just under a minute remaining to give the Patriots a chance for the game-winning touchdown. His season of clutch started in Week 1 when he kicked the game-winner in a 23-21 win over the Bills at Orchard Park. It has continued consistently ever since.
The case could easily be made that the eight-year kicker out of Memphis is not only having the best season of his career but he’s having the best season of any kicker in the league.
He has made 30-of-32 field goal attempts this season, missing only from 43 yards wide left against the Jets in Week 2 and from 55 yards against Houston in Week 13. Gostkowski followed up that 55-yard miss in Houston by hitting a pair from 53 yards on the suspect grass turf of Reliant Stadium in the fourth quarter, one to tie the game and one to win it.
His 93.8 conversion rate on field goals would be a career best, passing his 90 percent mark (36-of-40) in 2008.
How far has Gostkowski come in his eight years as kicker?
“I think, it’s maybe a little bit like Brady,” Bill Belichick said Friday in comparing him to the quarterback. “He gets a little bit better each year, but he started off at a pretty high level. He’s had a lot of great years for us and individual plays. He continues to work hard at his job, his training, his conditioning, his technique, obviously the execution with his other teammates on field goals.”
This is also the best season Gostkowski has had in kickoffs. His net kickoff yardage is 44.49 yards, fifth best in the NFL. His touchback rate of 64.6 percent (51-of-79) is also fifth in the NFL. Lofty numbers that, along with his field goal numbers, should make him a favorite for the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams.
“He just becomes a better student of the game, more knowledgeable, more experienced, better situational player,” Belichick said. “But it’s incremental. It wasn’t like it started at a low point. It started at a pretty high point and it’s gradually ratcheted it up a little bit. You talk about Brady, where he was in ‘02, ‘03, ‘04, he played at a pretty good level but has continued to improve since then too. His work ethic and attention to detail and focus on a lot of little things, but again, it wasn’t the jump that he made his first year, let’s put it that way.”
Gostkowski has hit 200-of-234 attempts in his eight years in New England while missing just once on 391 extra points. His record in the playoffs is just as strong, converting all 35 extra points and hitting 18-of-20 in the postseason.
After playing so many years in the shadow of Vinatieri, Gostkowski has finally kicked himself into his own place in Patriots greatness.
Here is the rest of Friday’s press conference from Bill Belichick:
BB: Well, we’re getting ready for a little climate change here. Go down in the division and play Miami, a team ‘ they’re playing very well. I think, like I said, Coach [Joe] Philbin has done a good job with that team. They’ve been consistent, disciplined, tough, playing well in all three phases of the game. We’ll need to play our best this week, we know that. We’ll need to play our best.
Q: Is it fair to say that their offensive line has performed at a higher level in recent weeks? It seems like they’re coming together. What would you attribute that to?
BB: They’ve had a little bit of movement in there, when [Mike] Pouncey was out for a couple games. They had to move [Nate] Garner inside and play [Sam] Brenner at guard. Brenner played a lot last week too. I think just overall as a group and as a team, they have good balance. They run the ball, they throw, they run it outside, they run it inside. They use all their backs; [Marcus] Thigpen is getting a little more involved. I think it’s just a combination of everybody, probably collectively, probably doing a little bit better. Obviously at receiver they lost [Brandon] Gibson, but they’re getting good production out of the third receivers there ‘ [Rishard] Matthews and [Marlon] Moore. It seems like everybody’s just stepping up and doing what they need to do. I wouldn’t put it on any one thing, whether it be the line, the backs, the receivers, the tight ends ‘ [Charles] Clay has been more productive ‘ it’s just I think been a collection of all of it, and good coaching.
Q: You can’t clinch it this week, but the Broncos loss last night opened up the path to the number one seed.
BB: There’s nothing we can do about anything except what we do. I don’t care about anybody else.
Q: You’ve been in a lot of close games this year, but in a perfect world would you be giving Ryan Mallett some game snaps?
BB: We’re going to try to win every game, that’s what we do. Whatever we think is best to do to win, that’s what we’re going to win.
Q: Is getting game snaps a key component to his development?
BB: Our job is to win games, it’s not to do things to satisfy individual goals or needs or anything else. My job is to win games. I represent the whole team, I don’t represent any individual. You should talk to the player agents about that. That’s not my job. My job is to win games and represent the entire football team.
Q: Besides going inside for practice is there anything you’re doing to get ready for the heat in Miami?
BB: Yeah, I’d say all of it, all the normal things that we would do, without listing them all. But, yes. We do that every week. Whatever the playing conditions are, the situation is or the travel situation, we try to do the things that we feel are most advantageous for that set of circumstances, whatever it is, with our training staff, our strength and conditioning staff, from a nutrition standpoint, if it’s travel, our operations ‘ we do the things that we feel like would help us the most. Really, that’s every week.
Q: Do you mind seeing a game at Miami on the schedule at this time of year?
BB: They always play us well down there. They’re a good football team and they always play us well down there. I never really look forward to that because they’re a good, competitive, tough football team. I know we’re going to get a great effort from them, and hopefully they’ll get a great effort from us. But it’s always, always tough to play the Dolphins. I never look forward to that game.
Q: When you’re facing a division opponent that you know pretty well, are there challenges to going up against a team that you are so familiar with?
BB: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s a lot of information. So we have all of this year’s information, which is 13 games, we had our game against them. Then we have our two games against them last year, then we have all the games that we had from last year going into our games. Really it’s two seasons worth of, it’s a couple thousand plays on offense, a couple thousand plays on defense. It’s probably 700, 800 plays in the kicking game. It’s a lot of plays. They can’t do everything that they have shown, but you have to be ready for it because they have it and they’ve done it and we know they have it and that kind of thing. I think it’s trying to whittle down the volume of information, which is excessive. It’s way more than you need. But you can’t ignore it. If they did something against us last year, we can’t ignore it. Or if they’ve had a strong tendency of doing something in the past but they haven’t done as much of it recently but they’ve shown it, we know they still have it, we don’t want to just say, ‘Well, that’s not going to come up.’ I think that would be irresponsible. But at the same time, you can’t get ready for everything. There’s just too much history. And they can’t do everything and we can’t do everything. It’s the same thing. You go back with us and find plays that we’ve run in the past that have resurfaced recently for one reason or another because of the scheme or situation that we’re in. But the volume of that is enormous. It’s definitely something that as a coach and as a player, you’ve got to focus on a few key things and make sure you get those done. Every defense can’t stop every play that they’ve shown. Every play can’t block every defense that they’ve shown. It’s impossible. But you have to put your chips on some number and go with that and then be ready to adjust during the game when you see things declare or maybe they’ve got three or four different ways to play a certain look or whatever and then, how have they chosen to play it this week, or what are we getting in the game? We’ve seen these two or three things, but it looks like it’s going to be more like this particular version and we have to adjust to that, and vice versa. But it’s a different dynamic than playing a team that you’re trying to get familiar with that you don’t know everything about. You kind of naturally focus on some of the core things that have shown up repetitively for the that team and then you get into a game against a team like that, and you’ll see things that they haven’t shown maybe in the last three or four weeks, but maybe you had it in the offseason or maybe you’re just not familiar enough with the team to know that that’s something that they’ve done, it just hasn’t shown up in recent games. That’s kind of the different problem. Something shows up that, I’m not saying you’re not prepared for, but you’re trying to prepare for the things that you know they’re going to do, and then you get something that’s a little bit different. I’d say in games like our division games, that’s a lot less common. Rarely do we come out of games saying, ‘We’ve never seen them do that before.’ That’s usually not what we’re saying.
Q: It seems like they use a lot of double ‘A’ gap coverage. How does that put pressure on your offensive line?
BB: Well, that’s what they do. [Kevin] Coyle came from kind of the Cincinnati program, which is what they do. That’s definitely a big part of their defense, particularly in third down or two-minute passing situations. It puts six guys really on five. Your tackles, guards, and center and are against their four defensive linemen and two guys in the ‘A’ gap. You have to determine how you’re going to handle those six players. Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they line up in there and bring people off the edge, so there’s actually a seventh guy that’s not part of that six. But again, when you line up there it, I don’t want to say it limits, but it makes it harder to get to other spaces on the field than if you weren’t lined up on the line of scrimmage. It puts pressure on one thing, but it also takes them away from something else. It’s like anything else, there’s a give-and-take with it. You definitely have to have a plan to decide how you’re going to treat it and what you’re going to do with it, because they do it quite a bit of it.
Q: Does that change protection calls and things that happen before the snap?
BB: Sure, yeah. Well, it depends on what you have called, it might change it. You’ve got to have something, you can’t just let them run right up the middle, right through the ‘A’ gap unblocked. You have to deal with it somehow. There are a number of different ways to do it, and they don’t always come there. They threaten there and come and then they threaten there and don’t come. You just have to have something in your system to deal with the look that they give you and the things that they have done with it, which is, like I said, come, bring both of them, bring one of them or bring a guy off the edge. It’s very similar to what we saw in Cincinnati. It’s not the same, but it’s very similar. And a number of teams have done it, maybe not as much as Cincinnati and Miami do it, but they do it so you still have to deal with it.
Q: Any chance you’ll tailor the travel tomorrow around the Army-Navy game tomorrow so you can catch it?
BB: No, it’s a longer trip. We’re just going to have to ‘ our priority is just to have the smoothest trip we can, go down and play well. But I’ll be pulling for Navy to get 11 in a row. You can never have too many wins against Army, I’ll tell you that.