New England Patriots supporters do not know how good they have it because Stephen Gostkowski is as reliable as a kicker comes in the NFL. On Sunday, he proved it, nailing two pressure-packed kicks of 53 yards in the fourth quarter to tie the score and put the Patriots ahead in their 34-31 win over the Houston Texans.
It was questionable if Gostkowski would even go out and attempt the game-tying 53-yarder on fourth and 13 in the fourth quarter. He sailed the ball wide right on a 55-yard attempt in the second quarter and had only two other kicks of over 50 yards this season, but the first 53-yard attempt was right down the middle. When Gostkowski had his second attempt of the same distance later in the fourth he lined up with the confidence everyone wants their kicker to have, booming the pigskin into the net that would have been good from 60 yards. That exhibition of Gostkowski’s right leg gave the Patriots the lead for good and exposed a clutch gene in the eight-year veteran.
Despite the fact that Houston’s Reliant Stadium is climate controlled; their grass surface is among the ugliest and unplayable in the league, making Gostkowski’s boots even more impressive. The kicker is now 28-of-30 on the season and on his way to making his second all-Pro team (his 96.3 percent field goal percentage was tops in the NFL heading into Sunday).
Adam Vinatieri was beloved in New England for connecting on field goals when the team needed them the most. Even though Gostkowski has been the Patriots kicker since Vinatieri’s departure to the Indianapolis Colts in 2006, the Memphis University product is not remembered for kicking any game-winning field goals in crunch time. His rookie-year 31-yarder with 1:14 over the San Diego Chargers in the 2006 Divisional Playoff was probably Gostkowski’s most-clutch kick.
That, in part, has to do with not having the opportunities like Vinatieri has. In Super Bowl XLII, Bill Belichick opted to go for it on fourth and 13 instead of allowing Gostkowski to attempt a 48-yarder that would have given the Patriots the lead. Now after his performance in Houston, Gostkowski has earned the right to kick the long field goals in the important games. That sort of clutch kick could make the current Patriots kicker just as popular as their former kicker. Gostkowski already has a higher career percentage (85.6 percent; eighth in NFL history) than Vinatieri (82.8 percent; 19th).