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Stephen Gostkowski captures AFC special teams player of the week 09.14.16 at 9:56 am ET
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Stephen Gostkowski

Stephen Gostkowski

FOXBORO — It didn’t take long for the Patriots to capture some honors in the 2016 season.

Stephen Gostkowski has been named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week following the Patriots Week 1 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Gostkowski converted both extra points and all three field goal (47, 53 and 32) attempts in Sunday’s 23-21 road victory over the Cardinals. Tuesday’s announcement marks the fourth time in his career that Gostkowski has been named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

He has also been named Special Teams Player of the Month three times – Oct. 2008, Oct. 2009 and Sept. 2015.

Gostkowski connected on his eighth career game-winning field goal when he connected on a 32-yard attempt with 3:44 left to play in the game and drilled a 53-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. He has made has made 78.3 percent of his field goals (18-for-23) from 50 yards or more, converting the highest percentage of 50-plus yard field goal attempts in NFL history (minimum 15 attempts).

WEEI’s Chris Price noted on Monday that the special teams had a big role in the Patriots’ 23-21 win.

He was also excellent on kickoffs against the Cardinals, leaving Arizona with an average starting position at the 18-yard line following kickoffs.

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Have Patriots regained their special teams’ mojo? 09.13.16 at 7:31 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski and the rest of the Patriots' special teamers played a sizable role in Sunday's win. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski and the rest of the Patriots’ special teamers played a sizable role in Sunday’s win. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

After an occasionally down 2015, the Patriots’ special teams enjoyed a terrific start to 2016 on Sunday.

Whether it was the work of the kick coverage team in pinning Arizona deep in its own end on the last kickoff of the game, or Stephen Gostowski’s 3-for-3 night on field goal attempts, or Ryan Allen and the punt coverage unit accounting for an impressive 40.5 net yards per punt, it was a good night all around. (That doesn’t even take into account the fact that Patrick Chung apparently came close to blocking what would have been a game-winning field goal attempt from Arizona that was ultimately off the mark.)

Winning the field position battle is always key, but the margin for error with a young quarterback at the controls is even slimmer. The Patriots held the edge all night on the Cardinals — in non-turnover situations, the average starting field position for Arizona was its own 22-yard line, including six times at its own 25 or worse.

The ability to tilt the field paid off on several occasions for New England on both sides of the ball. It allowed Jimmy Garoppolo a little more leeway on offense, while the defense found itself in plenty of optimal situations all night long.

Chung has described the art of special teams as a “legalized, 40-yard fistfight,” a phrase he picked up from a college coach while at Oregon. If that’s the case, the Patriots soundly beat the Cardinals on points Sunday night.

“I think we did a good job of just playing together,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater, one of several special teamers’ singled out by coach Bill Belichick earlier this week. “Understanding how we were going to be played and how we were going to execute and giving ourselves a chance to win the field position battle.”

He added: “Every man that went out there knew what he needed to do and we played together. It wasn’t guy just running around and trying to make plays on his own. It was everybody playing together.”

Their work as a group stands in stark contrast to some of last year’s low points. A franchise that prides itself on peerless special teams play came up lacking in many big moments: Slater himself said the special teams was to blame for the surprising loss to the Eagles, a defeat that played a role in the Patriots losing home-field advantage. And Gostkowski’s missed extra point in the AFC title game was an awful gaffe that came back to haunt New England. Because of those misfires — as well as a few others — the Patriots fell from third to 11th in the annual special teams rankings from Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News.

But Sunday’s performance certainly sparked some optimism that New England’s special teams unit will be able to bounce back in 2016. On a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Belichick mentioned several names as being key to their success against the Cardinals, including Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon Bolden and Jonathan Freeny.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Matthew Slater, Patrick Chung, Stephen Gostkowski
Bill Belichick on D&H admits he made 2 mistakes in win over Cardinals 09.12.16 at 6:16 pm ET
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Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick

Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined Dale & Holley with Thornton on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ 23-21 win over the Cardinals on Sunday night where he admitted to making two mistakes in the game. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

With the Patriots leading 23-21, it was third-and-23 on the Patriots 47-yard line with 1:10 left in the game. Carson Palmer found Jaron Brown for 18 yards to get down to the Patriots’ 29-yard line. Since Arizona had no timeouts and it was fourth down, their field goal unit rushed on to the field with roughly a minute to go and the clock running.

Many thought Belichick would call timeout right there to preserve as much time for the Patriots as he could, but he didn’t. Instead, he called timeout with 41 seconds left, as the Cardinals didn’t appear to be in a rush to get the kick off.

After the game, he explained his reasoning for waiting to call the timeout, but then on Monday admitted he probably should have called it sooner.

“What happened last night was they hit the pass on third down, so it brought up fourth-and-5, or something like that. There were two options,” Belichick explained. “One, they could kick a long field goal, or two, they could go for it on fourth down. Fourth-and-5, which is reasonable so it was a quick what are they going to do? Once they sent the kicker on, it looked to me they were going to go right to the line and kick it. So I didn’t initially call the timeout and the field goal team got lined up pretty quickly, but [Chandler] Catanzaro went back and was kind of warming up and kicking off to the side so he could see he wasn’t going to go over to the kicking spot and they were going to let time run down before he kicked it.

“What I should have done was probably taken the timeout as soon as they completed the pass, but I didn’t want to do that because I thought they might just go right out and kick it and we would have our timeout for our final drive in case we needed to use a timeout on a completed pass in bounds to kick a field goal. I wanted to save the timeout if I could, but then it got to the point where I could just see they were going to let it run down and even if I lost a little bit of time there by not doing it initially, I still felt like there was still 20 seconds on the 40-second clock and I don’t want to lose all this so if he makes it at least we’ll have some time on the back end.

“That is why I took it and as it turns out — putting a little extra time on the kicker, whether it helped or not — I don’t know if that was too big of a factor. Initially, I didn’t think we would need to do it, but they played it smart. They bled it out and forced us to use it.”

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Stock Watch: Who’s up, who’s down after preseason win over Panthers 08.26.16 at 11:57 pm ET
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Tom Brady looks to pass Friday against the Panthers. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Tom Brady looks to pass Friday against the Panthers. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Taking a quick look at who was up and who was down for the Patriots in Friday’s preseason slate against the Panthers:

The Patriots secondary. The New England defensive backs came away with three interceptions on the night, with Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon picking off Cam Newton (twice) and backup Derek Anderson (once).

Tom Brady. The veteran saw his first taste of action this preseason in the first half, and while he was 3-for-9 for 76 yards and a touchdown on the night, his energy and enthusiasm was palpable. It’s debatable as to how valuable the work for Brady was — he’ll be on the shelf until Week 5 of the regular season, thanks to You Know Who. But it was a good first step for him.

Chris Hogan. The new receiver, who will likely step into the role that Brandon LaFell had the last two years, showed some impressive quicks and good chemistry. He ended the night with five catches on six targets for 62 yards and a touchdown, and appears to be ready for the regular season.

Third-down defense. The Patriots were excellent when it came to getting off the field, holding Carolina to 1-for-10 on third down to start the night and 5-for-17 overall.

Cyrus Jones. The rookie out of Alabama had a 60-yard punt return that led to New England’s second touchdown of the night, a 12-yard pass play from Jacoby Brissett to DeAndre Carter that came five plays later. In addition, he was part of a New England secondary that shut down Newton. All in all, a good night for the first-year player.

Third-down offense. As good as the third-down defense was, the third-down offense was that bad. Brady delivered a jolt to the New England offense when he entered the game, but the group as a whole smply couldn’t string together extended drives. The Patriots were 0-for-7 on third down in the first half, and didn’t connect on third down until Brissett found Carter on a touchdown pass play late in the third quarter. (New England finished 1-for-13 overall.) Truth be told, the inconsistency was an issue throughout, as New England was overly reliant on the defense much of the evening.

Jimmy Garoppolo. If you are stacking his three preseason starts against each other, Friday night’s performance was the roughest of the three. Even with some short fields courtesy of the defense and special teams, Garoppolo was unable to find much offensive traction on the night. He went 9-for-15 for 57 yards and appeared rattled at times in the face of the Carolina defense.

Stephen Gostkowski. One of his missed field goals was likely the result of a bad snap from Joe Cardona, but there was no denying the fact that it wasn’t Gostkowski’s finest hour. He missed a 30-yarder and a 52-yarder. He did connect on a 25-yard attempt in the first half and added a 30-yarder in the second half, but the misses will be a point of emphasis this week.

AJ Derby. The tight end struggled with some drops, and it looked like he might have missed at least one blocking assignment in the first half. (He did have a nice fourth-quarter catch from Brissett.) After a really good performance last week against the Bears that might have cemented his spot as the third tight end, it was a bit of a step back for the youngster.

Red-zone efficiency. The Patriots were just 1-for-4 in the red zone against the Panthers. That was on the heels of a 2-for-5 effort last week against the Bears and a 1-for-3 performance in the preseason opener against the Saints. Maybe that starts to improve when the Patriots have their full collection of offensive options on the field — including Rob Gronkowski, who is one of the best red-zone threats in the league. But New England needs to consistently start finishing drives with touchdowns instead of field goals.

Read More: AJ Derby, Chris Hogan, Cyrus Jones, Jimmy Garoppolo
Stephen Gostkowski not happy with NFL changing, potentially eliminating kickoffs 08.05.16 at 6:00 am ET
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Stephen Gostkowski

Stephen Gostkowski

FOXBORO — Over the last few years, the NFL has tweaked some of the rules as it relates to special teams.

Last year the PAT was pushed back to a 33-yard kick, and this year a touchback now will be at the 25-yard line opposed to the 20.

Gostkowski said he and the Patriots coaches haven’t fully decided how this will change their approach when it comes to kickoffs, but he’s willing to adapt to whatever they choose.

“I haven’t thought too much about it yet. We’ll have to see how it goes,” Gostkowski said. “I’m not as big of a fan of the direction the league seems to be going in. Hopefully, they can come to some kind of agreement where they are not trying to get rid of that play because it’s a great play and obviously half my career is based on that play so I am always going to be for keeping the kickoff in. Hopefully I will be the best at whatever we try and do for our approach for kickoffs, whatever that approach may be.”

The 11th-year kicker is willing to deal with a few tweaks to the rules, but when it comes to kickoffs as a whole, there’s been a push to eliminate the play altogether, which is something Gostkowski adamantly opposes, saying he will do anything in his power to keep the play in the NFL.

“The only thing that bothers me is just the fact that there are rumors of them trying to get rid of kickoffs. That bothers me personally,” he said. “I’m not going to complain about rules and how it affects the way I play — just a lot of people make their spot on the team through special teams and obviously that is the only way I can make an NFL team so I am going to fight and be an advocate for the play as long as I can.

“The adjustments each year, the extra point and the new kickoff, it is what it is. Sitting around moaning and crying about it is not going to get you anywhere, but look bad. I just try and do the best I can with what I have and just adjust on the fly.”

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Stephen Gostkowski not putting any extra pressure on himself after how last season ended 08.04.16 at 1:37 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski

Stephen Gostkowski

FOXBORO — Last season didn’t end the way Stephen Gostkowski or the Patriots wanted it to.

The Patriots fell 20-18 to the Broncos in the AFC championship game in Denver where they fell a two-point conversion short in the final seconds, which came after they were chasing a point the whole game following Stephen Gostkowski missing an extra point in the first quarter.

Gostkowski, who had made an NFL record 523 straight extra points before the miss, said he isn’t putting any extra pressure on himself going into this year with the way things ended last year.

“I’m always eager to come out and prove myself and have a successful season,” Gostkowski said following Thursday’s practice. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best I can be and go out there and do the best for my teammates. It’s pretty much all I can do year in and year out.”

Gostkowski and the Patriots’ field goal team from last year will return this season after long-snapper Joe Cardona got his Navy service modified so he could play to go along with holder and punter Ryan Allen.

“It’s real nice. Me, Joe and Ryan got together pretty quick last year and had a pretty good season,” Gostkowski said. “Hopefully we can build off that and just be consistent. The name of the game with kicking is consistency and you have to be as consistent as possible. If you go out there and have a bad play you have to pick yourself up and go out for the next one. That’s where it is mentally — when it’s going good it can be really easy. It’s when you have a bad game or a bad kick you have to pick yourself up off the ground and make no excuses and try and make the next one. That is the toughest part of the job.”

Gostkowski is set to begin his 11th season and at 32 years old, he’s the second-longest tenured player on the team, trailing only Tom Brady.

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Most Important Patriots of 2016: No. 15, Stephen Gostkowski 07.07.16 at 11:30 am ET
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Stephen Gostkowski's best moment of 2015 was his game-winner against the Giants. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski’s best moment of 2015 was his game-winner against the Giants. (Elsa/Getty Images)

As the countdown to training camp begins later this month, we’re going to take a look at the 20 most important members of the Patriots heading into 2016.

15. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski

Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 200
Age: 32 (will turn 33 Jan. 28)

Resume: Since he arrived as a fourth-round pick out of Memphis in 2006, Gostkowski has earned a rep as one of the most dependable kickers in the league. He’s led the NFL in points in 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, joining Don Hutson and Gino Cappelletti as the only players to lead the league in scoring in five seasons. Gostkowski also surpassed Adam Vinatieri this past season to become the team’s all-time leader in field goals with 276. His 87 percent success rate on field goal attempts is third all-time among kickers with at least 100 career field-goal attempts. A four-time Pro Bowler, he’s twice been named first-team All-Pro, in 2008 and 2015. (He was second-team All-Pro in 2014.) He was also first-team All-NFL last year, according to the Pro Football Writers and Pro Football Focus. While he had an ugly end to the 2015 season — a missed extra-point against the Broncos in the AFC championship game came back to haunt the Patriots in the end — given the body of his work, he’s become a worthy successor to Vinatieri’s legacy.

Why we ranked him here: If there’s a kicker who deserves to be among the top 15 most valuable on his team (other than maybe Baltimore’s Justin Tucker) its Gostkowski. With the exception of last year’s miss against the Broncos — his first missed extra-point in nine years — he’s been the very model of consistency for the franchise over the last decade. He has an extraordinary success rate from anywhere (he’s a career 17-for-22 from 50-plus yards, including the game-winning 54-yarder last year against the Giants), is annually one of the league leaders when it comes to touchbacks, and is tied for fifth among all kickers when it comes to consecutive regular-season games played (80). People will dismiss his standing here because he’s a kicker, but in terms of overall value to the franchise, he’s earned a place in our top 20.

Quote: “Stephen is awesome. I’ve got the utmost respect for him. I think he is a great kicker. … He didn’t miss one all [regular] season long. He missed one extra point the whole season. I wouldn’t hold it too much against him on that. That’s for dang sure. I think he is as good of a guy as you’re ever going to get to kick for your team. You would be fortunate and lucky to have him.” — Adam Vinatieri on Gostkowski in the wake of his missed extra-point in the AFC title game

Random note: While there have been a few fill-ins here and there because of injury, this upcoming season will mark the 20th consecutive year of the Vinatieri-Gostkowski combo. Vinatieri joined the Patriots in 1996, and Gostkowski was drafted by New England in the spring of 2006 after Vinatieri left in free agency.

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