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Why Patriots reportedly extended kicker Stephen Gostkowski when they did 07.15.15 at 3:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 18:  Stephen Gostkowski #3 of the New England Patriots kicks a 21 yard field goal in the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski reportedly signed a contract extension on Wednesday. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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.

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Stephen Gostkowski,
Some history behind Patriots and franchise tag 03.02.15 at 1:30 pm ET
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Adam Vinatieri is the only player who has been hit with the franchise tag twice by the Patriots. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Adam Vinatieri is the only player who has been hit with the franchise tag twice by the Patriots. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

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.

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, franchise tag, Logan Mankins
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
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Adam Vinatieri missed his only field goal attempt of the game, a 51 yarder in the first quarter. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Adam Vinatieri missed his only field goal attempt of the game, a 51-yard attempt in the first quarter. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Adam Vinatieri, Bill Belichick,
Most memorable Patriots-Colts games of Tom Brady era 01.17.15 at 3:10 pm ET
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Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns in the Nov. meeting between the two teams. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns in the Patriots’ win over the Colts in November. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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.

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Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady
No question about it: The answer that convinced Patriots they could move on from Adam Vinatieri 01.15.15 at 10:44 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski passed Adam Vinatieri as the franchise's leading scorer this season. (Jerome Davis/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski passed Adam Vinatieri as the franchise’s leading scorer this season. (Jerome Davis/Getty Images)

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.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Adam Vinatieri, Stephen Gostkowski,
Adam Vinatieri on Indianapolis: ‘As far as I’m concerned, this is home’ 01.14.15 at 9:19 pm ET
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Adam Vinatieri missed just one field goal all regular season. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Adam Vinatieri missed just one field goal all regular season. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Adam Vinatieri won three Super Bowls with New England and was a Patriot from 1996-2005, but the kicker seems to have put that in the past, as he went on an Indianapolis radio station on Wednesday and declared Indy his “home.”

“I’ve been ten years there and nine years now here,” Vinatieri said on 1070 the Fan. “It almost feels like two complete, full careers — and in a sense it really has been, you know, when you think of the league average at a little over three years and this being my nineteenth season now, it almost feels like I’ve had two separate lifetimes, different careers.

“I definitely respect all the stuff that we accomplished in New England when I was there, but this is home for me. My kids never knew me as a New England Patriot, they only know me as a Colt with the horseshoe on my helmet. So we’re going to stay and raise our kids here and as far as I’m concerned, this is home.”

Even at age 42, Vinatieri is kicking at a high level, as he was 30-31 during the regular season, which led the league at 96.8 percent. He was 20-for-20 from inside 40 yards. It doesn’t seem like he has any short-term plans to retire either.

“I’ve always said that as long as I’m still loving it, which I do, and as long as I can still do it — if I can do it at a high enough level — there’s nothing I’d rather be doing,” Vinatieri said. “I think i would miss it a lot the day that I’m watching it from the couch or something like that. I love it. I haven’t set a definite time yet, I haven’t set ‘next year’s going to be my last year.’ I’m going to take it one day at a time, and if I’m feeling healthy and can continue to kick well, we’ll see how far I can go.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Adam Vinatieri,
How Bill Belichick views the 2-minute drill and why it matters 11.14.14 at 1:14 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski (3) converts a preseason 60 yard field goal at the end of the first half. (Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski (3) converts a preseason 60 yard field goal at the end of the first half. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — No one in football has scored as often in the two-minute drill like the Patriots have this season. At least, the two-minute drill before halftime.

But as we learned from Patriots coach Bill Belichick Friday, there’s a big, big difference in his mind between scoring in the final two minutes of the first half and scoring when the game is on the line.

In nine games, the Patriots have scored 12 times in the two minutes before halftime. They scored three times against the Bears when Jay Cutler and company gave them the game. They scored twice apiece against the Bills and Bengals. (It should be noted that the 12 times includes the blocked field goal return against the Vikings by Chandler Jones and a 15-yard fumble return against the Bears by Rob Ninkovich).

As the clock winds down to :00, the Patriots have been particularly deadly, kicking three Stephen Gostkowski field goals as time expired while scoring six times under 10 seconds.

But the truth of the matter is the Patriots have not been tested with the game on the line. Only two games have come down to the final possession and in both cases, against the Raiders and Jets, the Patriots held on because of a lack of execution by the opponent.

“The two-minute at the end of the half is a lot different than the two-minute at the end of the game,” Belichick said. “They’€™re two, really completely different situations. I mean, I know everybody talks about them like they’€™re the same, but to me they’€™re not anything the same. You don’€™t have to score at the end of the half. I mean, if you have to score at the end of the game to win the game, then that’€™s a totally different situation.”

Time will tell if Belichick’s team can handle that situation at the end of a game. This week, as has been well-documented, features two clutch kickers in Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski who have been extremely dependable.

“If you don’€™t score at the end of the half, then you haven’€™t lost the game,’€ Belichick added. “Do you want to score? Yeah, you want to score every time you have the ball, that’€™s why you put the offense out there, but it’€™s just different at the end of the half.

“Try to take what you can get, if not, you don’€™t want to put yourself at more risk than you have to. At the end of the game you’€™ve gotta do whatever you’€™ve gotta do to move the ball and get in position to win the game. So if you have to take chances, if you have to do things you may not want to do in order to have an opportunity to make the plays you need to make, then you’€™re willing to do that. But it’€™s dictated by the situation.”

Field position can dictate, more than anything at the end of the first half, whether a team wants to go down and do everything possible to score. But there’s the fine line of not wanting to give the opponent another chance.

“I think field position is part of it, but so is everything else: time, timeouts, how you match up in that situation,” Belichick said. “I think it’€™s all part of it. I think there are a lot of factors in that, in what you call and what happens in the sequence of plays that you call. Each one is different. Obviously, there are some common threads, but I think each situation each week is different based on the matchups and based on whatever the specific situation is: time, timeouts, field position, playing conditions, etcetera.”

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Bill Belichick, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots
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