With Adam Vinatieri long gone, the Patriots selected Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round of this year's draft. The team didn't draft him to be the next Vinatieri, but simply to make kicks for them on a consistent basis. The rookie doesn't have to hit a game-winning field goal in a driving snowstorm to prove his worth. He doesn't have to be Adam Vinatieri. Gostkowski just needs to go out and make field goals, one kick at a time.
Things started out great for Gostkowski. He was perfect in his field goal attempts this preseason, got good distance on his kickoffs and connected on his first two attempts during the regular season. Gostkowski was kicking so well, people in New England even started asking the question, "Adam who?"
Then came the first bump in the road for the young kicker. With the Patriots leading the Jets 24-17 late in the fourth quarter, Gostkowski trotted onto the field for a 29-yard field goal attempt that, if successful, would have put the game away. When the ball left the rookie's foot, instead of sailing through the uprights, he heard the thump of it hitting the hand of Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma. The blocked kick gave the Jets life in a game the Patriots were able to hang on and win in the end.
It was Gostkowski's first miss as a pro and the first time he had to deal with the pressures of being an NFL kicker when things don't go right. He appeared to kick the ball low, although heavy penetration on the right side of the line contributed to the block. The 22-year old could have hung his head and avoided dealing with the situation. Instead, he showed maturity beyond his years by standing in front of the media firing squad after the game and answering every question about the blocked kick.
"We had penetration on the play but that's on me," Gostkowski said following the game. "I take the blame for the kick being blocked. I need to make those."
Gostkowski's failed attempt wasn't cause for concern because the Jets did get a lot of penetration on the play. However, the rookie would get another chance the next week and unfortunately, the results were eerily similar.
With the Patriots trailing the Broncos 3-0 in the second quarter, Gostkowski had a chance to tie the game when he lined up for 37-yard field goal attempt. However, once again his kick never got over the line of scrimmage and was blocked by the Broncos Domonique Foxworth.
Two blocked kicks in a row. Not exactly how Gostkowski envisioned starting off his career in New England.
"I take 100 percent of the blame on the one against the Broncos," he said. "It has to get over the line for it to go in. That's a pretty important part of the equation. I have to work on it. There's not much I can say. It was bad and I have to straighten up and get better."
The miss against the Broncos came at home on a less than accommodating Gillette Stadium turf. The field was pretty beat up after hosting a Rolling Stones concert four days earlier and a Revolutions soccer game the night before. The torn up field caused Gostkowski's plant foot to slip on his attempt but the rookie made no excuses about the bad field conditions and put all the blame squarely on his shoulders.
"What the field is like before the game isn't what it's like in the middle of the game," Gostkowski said. "I have to be able to adjust and be controlled. You don't want to tear the field up before the game just to see what it's going to be like for the kicker. I haven't kicked that many times here and I just have to get used to it."
While his second-straight miss haunted Gostkowski, what bothered him even more was that he didn't get a chance to redeem himself later on in the game.
"What's frustrating is you kick hundreds of balls every week and 90 percent of them are successful during the week," Gostkowski said. "Then you get one chance in the game and you mess up. That's not a good feeling. I feel like I was back in college working on a term paper and right before I was about to turn it in, my computer crashed and I forgot to save it. I was just upset that I didn't have a chance to make up for it in that game. I just wanted one more chance."
Bill Belichick didn't blame his young kicker for either kick getting blocked but everyone on the Patriots knows if a player doesn't do his job consistently, the team will replace him with someone who can.
"It's too early to say he has a problem," punter Josh Miller said. "But he understands the reality of life on the Patriots. Coach Belichick may love you to death but if he doesn't think you're productive, you're going to get replaced. That's how it is and that's how it should be."