|Record-setting Stephen Gostkowski doing everything he can ‘to stay in the groove and keep rolling’||10.30.15 at 9:18 am ET|
FOXBORO — The time is quickly approaching to consider Stephen Gostkowski as one of the best kickers in NFL history.
On Thursday night, he connected on his 25th and 26th consecutive field goals, dating back to last season in the Patriots’ 36-7 romp over the Dolphins as wind-blown Gillette Stadium. In the process, he set a new franchise record for most consecutive field goals, passing Adam Vinatieri‘s 25 in a row in 1996-97.
Gostkowski has been flat out perfect this season, converting all 28 extra points and nailing all 17 field goals, including a remarkable 52-yarder Thursday in which he played the wind like a PGA Tour pro, drawing it 10 yards from right to left through the uprights in the first half.
“That was into the wind, and it was blowing straight to the left and it was super windy,” Gostkowski said of the 15 MPH crosswinds kicking into the north end of the stadium. “Kicking into that open end is really tough. Sometimes you’re at the mercy of when the wind’s blowing. I probably aimed it out more than I wanted to but you’ve just got to trust that you know that the wind’s blowing enough to pull it back. Right when I hit it, I felt like it had a really good chance.
“It’s kind of funny one of the [Dolphins] was like, ‘He missed it! He missed it!’ Then all our guys [yelled back], ‘Nah, he didn’t!’ So it was pretty cool. That’s about as tough a kick as you’re going to get out here, when the wind is gusting like that in the open end. There’s just nothing knocking the wind down so it affects the ball a lot more.”
His coach was impressed.
|5 things you have to know about Colts: Indy a massive underdog against Patriots||10.12.15 at 12:59 pm ET|
Five things you have to know about the Colts, who host the Patriots on Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The 40-year-old Hasselbeck, who took over after Luck went down with a shoulder issue, has started the last two games and has done a good job managing to wring just enough out of the offense to allow the Colts to escape with a pair of wins. In his two starts, Hasselbeck is 48-for-76 (63 percent completion rate) for 495 yards and three touchdowns, with no picks and a passer rating of 95.0. (Through the first three games, Luck was 65-for-116 for a 56 percent completion rate, with 753 yards, five touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 65.1.) It has to be taken with a grain of salt because the wins were relatively narrow victories over Jacksonville and Houston, but Hasselbeck’s steadiness and consistent play the last two weeks has allowed Indy to climb just over .500 entering this game. It’s likely that the Colts will do whatever they can to keep the Patriots guessing this week when it comes to who will be under center at the start of Sunday’s contest, but Hasselbeck might be the first Indy backup quarterback in 20 years to show that he can do more than just hold a clipboard. (For what it’s worth, Indy released quarterback Josh Johnson on Monday, which likely is a sign that one or both of the Luck/Hasselbeck combo is feeling better.)
2. Hasselbeck isn’t the only veteran who has helped the Colts offense through a rough patch.
In his first season with Indy, 32-year-old running back Frank Gore (76 carries, 325 yards, 3 TDs) has provided the bulk of the yardage on the ground. Meanwhile, 34-year-old receiver Andre Johnson (13 catches, 128 yards, 2 TDs), also in his initial season with the Colts, has also seen action as a complementary pass catcher, augmenting the work of youngsters like the speedy T.Y. Hilton (a team-high 27 catches, 382 yards) and Donte Moncrief (24 catches, 278 yards, 3 TDs). The positional grouping won’t remind anyone of Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison, but it’s provided just enough offense over the last few weeks to lift the Colts to three consecutive victories. (One more quick note on the Indy offense: the Colts are 31st in the league in giveaways with seven interceptions and five fumbles. In all, Indy is 31st when it comes to turnover ratio at minus-7. Not a good sign when you are facing a New England team that’s tied for fifth overall at plus-5.)
|Why Patriots reportedly extended kicker Stephen Gostkowski when they did||07.15.15 at 3:45 pm ET|
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski signed a franchise tender on March 6, paying him $4.59 million for the 2015 season, which would have been the second-highest salary for a kicker all-time.
After Wednesday, the Patriots and Gostkowski could not negotiate a new contract during the season and he would become a free agent after next season.
With the 31-year-old being one of the better kickers in the game — connecting on 35 of his 37 field goal attempts for a career-high 94.6 percent mark, leading to his third Pro Bowl selection and a second-team All-Pro honor last season — he would seemingly get heavy interest from other teams next offseason for top dollar.
With that in mind, the Patriots reportedly extended Gostkowski with a four-year deal worth about $17 million on Wednesday.
Gostkowski will be paid in the ballpark of $4.25 million each of the next four years (according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss), which is still the highest in the league, but it could have been even more if the Patriots didn’t extend him now. The team will save at least $314,000 this year with his new deal and if they were to have franchised him again next season, that number would jump 20 percent and would have been $5.33 million.
It’s also worth noting, extra points will be moved back to the 15-yard-line, so having a kicker as dependable as Gostkowski is, will be even more important than ever.
Many will point out the Patriots moved on from Adam Vinatieri at similar point in his career, but they aren’t the same situation. Vinatieri wasn’t brought back after his age 33 season and things were different then because the Patriots likely had Gostkowski on their radar via the draft and also Vinatieri was two years older than what Gostkowski is now.
While the Patriots are paying their kicker a fairly expensive amount, long-term it will likely turn out to be a financially smart move with kickers’ value expected to rise with the new rule changes.
|Some history behind Patriots and franchise tag||03.02.15 at 1:30 pm ET|
A few notes as we all wait for the 4 p.m. deadline on the franchise tag:
On four of the eight occasions the Patriots hit someone with the franchise tag, they did it on the last day of the window: Wes Welker (2012), Adam Vinatieri (2005), Tebucky Jones (2003) and Vinatieri (2002). The Welker announcement came just prior to the deadline.
Three of the eight tags ultimately led to contract extensions with the Patriots: Logan Mankins (2011), Vince Wilfork (2010) and Vinatieri (2002). Wilfork’s offseason came at the end of the tumultuous few months for the defensive lineman, who was strongly against the idea of being tagged. He eventually acquiesced, and that set the stage for a new five-year deal that made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league.
In addition, on three occasions, a player played that year under the franchise tag, and then departed as a free agent the following year: Welker (2012), Asante Samuel (2007) and Vinatieri (2005). In retrospect, it was clear that few players wanted to get out of town faster than Samuel. He held out for most of the offseason and into the summer, eventually signing his tender on Aug, 27. He left as a free agent the following offseason – he was in Philly at a press conference announcing his signing with the Eagles less than 18 hours following the start of free agency the next year.
And two players were tagged and then traded: Matt Cassel (2009) to the Chiefs and Jones (2003) to the Saints. While a few different scenarios could play out between now and the end of the offseason if one of the Patriots is tagged between now and the deadline, this is probably not one of them.
|Adam Vinatieri: ‘It starts with Coach [Bill] Belichick, obviously he is a mastermind at getting game plans’||01.19.15 at 12:03 am ET|
FOXBORO — Spending nine seasons with the Patriots, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri knows what winning is like, and what it takes to be successful.
After advancing a round further in each of the last three seasons, the Colts are close, but not quite over the hump of reaching the Super Bowl, as they were blown out, 45-7 in the AFC championship game Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
When asked what the Patriots do to be so successful — reaching their sixth Super Bowl in 14 seasons, and playing in their fourth straight AFC title game, Vinatieri named two people — Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
“Ultimately it starts with Coach Belichick,” said Vinatieri. “Obviously he is a mastermind at getting game plans. Obviously the skill level on that team, they have a lot of great players. A guy like Tom Brady, if you have him as your quarterback you’re going to win a lot of games. Across the board they played exceptionally well offensively and special teams, not only today, but all season long and they have a good team.”
As for the 2-2 start for the Patriots this season, and many people doubting the Patriots and Brady, Vinatieri was never a guy to believe all that.
“When you have a coach like Bill Belichick and a quarterback like Tom Brady it’s never really over,” he said. “They are clearly a very, very good football team. You’re not the No. 1 seed in the AFC by playing bad football all season long, so any team and every team has a hiccup occasionally throughout the course of a season so whatever they were saying early they outgrew that for sure.”
|Most memorable Patriots-Colts games of Tom Brady era||01.17.15 at 3:10 pm ET|
On Sunday evening, the Patriots will face the Colts in the AFC championship game. These teams are quite familiar with one another, and though the intensity of the rivalry may have waned when Peyton Manning played his final game for Indianapolis in the 2010 season, the game should prove to be an exciting one. Since 2001, when Tom Brady made his first start against Manning, the Patriots have edged the Colts in 12 of 17 meetings, outscoring them 545-401 in that time.
Brady guided the Patriots to wins against the Colts in his first six tries, but Manning followed that up with a little streak of his own, recording four victories in the next five meetings. During his last start as a Colt, Manning lost to the Pats and helped spawn a five-game New England win streak that stretches back to 2010 and is still alive. In the three games Brady and newcomer Andrew Luck have squared off, the Patriots have not scored fewer than 40 points.
In the teams’ matchup this season on Nov. 16, little-known running back Jonas Gray was the star. After noticing that using Gray in the run against Indianapolis proved just about unstoppable, the Patriots did it all game. All four of Gray’s touchdowns came from inside the 4-yard line, but he compiled 201 total yards throughout the course of the game on 37 attempts. Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright each added a receiving touchdown and the Patriots recorded 503 total yards in the 42-20 victory.
Here are the most memorable games between the teams since Brady took over.
10. Nov. 18, 2012: Patriots 59, Colts 24
Andrew Luck‘s first tilt against the Patriots could have probably gone better. The rookie quarterback had led his team to a 7-3 start to the season, but New England proved to be too much for him to handle. The Colts jumped out to a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, but from then on, New England took over. The Pats held Indianapolis to 10 points over the remaining three quarters while they put 52 more points on the board. The 59 points tied a franchise single-game scoring record.
Tom Brady was 24-for-35 for 331 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions while Luck had 27 completions in 50 attempts, 334 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions — two of which were returned for touchdowns — and a sack.
Julian Edelman and Gronkowski each recorded a pair of touchdowns, including Edelman’s 68-yard punt return. Brady found both Gronkowski and Wes Welker seven times for 137 yards and 80 yards, respectively.
9. Nov. 7, 2005: Colts 40, Patriots 21
After six losses to Brady, Manning finally got his first win against him in 2005. Injuries to important players on the Patriots as well as a perfect Colts team that was only getting better spelled an unfortunate outcome for the back-to-back Super Bowl champs.
Manning finished 28-for-37 for 321 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne each had nine receptions for the Colts for 128 yards and 124 yards, respectively, combining for three touchdowns. The Patriots also allowed 132 rushing yards and surrendered two touchdowns to the run game, giving Indianapolis 453 total yards.
|No question about it: The answer that convinced Patriots they could move on from Adam Vinatieri||01.15.15 at 10:44 pm ET|
Three Super Bowl titles, including game-winning field goals in two of them. Ten years of service with an 82 percent success rate on field goals. Eighteen game-winning field goals with less than one minute remaining, including the postseason. A franchise-leading (at the time) 1,158 points.
Those were some of the biggest things the Patriots were replacing following the 2005 season when they didn’t place the franchise tag on Adam Vinatieri and moved on from the franchise’s leading scorer, who then signed with the Colts.
Kickers are rarely taken in the NFL draft. In fact, since 2006 just 16 place kickers have been selected. In the 2006 draft just two kickers were selected, but the Patriots selected one of them in the fourth round — Stephen Gostkowski out of the University of Memphis.
Gostkowski’s numbers were pretty good his senior season — connecting on 22-of-25 field goals, including 10-for-10 from 40 yards or more. There were other talented kickers out there, and the Patriots could have looked within the league for their next kicker, but it was an answer they got from Memphis coach Tommy West that set Gostkowski above everyone else.
“He’s a tough guy. He’s a great competitor. That is what you want,” West, the current defensive line coach at Middle Tennessee State University, said via phone earlier this week. “I remember one question from one of the New England people, ‘Can he take hard coaching because coach [Bill] Belichick is. Is anyone hard on him?’ I said, ‘Oh, I promise you. He can take hard coaching. He’s used to that.’ ”
His special teams coach at the time, Tyson Helton, now the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky, said that hard coaching, very similar to Belichick, was the best thing that could have happened for Gostkowski, who started at Memphis with a baseball scholarship and walked on to the football team.
“The greatest thing for Stephen Gostkowski was he had a head coach at the University of Memphis in Tommy West,” Helton said over the phone earlier this week. “Tommy West is a players coach, but Tommy treated Stephen and coached Stephen like he would any one of our players and he was hard on Stephen. He put Stephen into a lot of hard situations. Tommy is one of those guys that when you meet him you go, ‘Gosh, this guy is an intimidating person,’ but Tommy is a great guy. He cares about his players but is one of those figures that you go, ‘Man, this guy is intimidating.’
“He was hard on Stephen in the sense that he knew he was very talented and wanted to get the most out of Stephen and he knew Stephen could handle the pressure. I think being coached by Tommy for those four years really helped Stephen to say, ‘It doesn’t matter who I kick against, what level I’m at, or what arena I am put in, I am going to perform,’ because I think he gave Stephen that confidence and really developed into a guy that can handle pressure, and handle confrontation and handle stressful situations. I think Tommy did a tremendous job.”