When you think of the New England Patriots, you think of Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, or winning Super Bowls (or cheating if you don’t live in Massachusetts). This season, when you think of the New England Patriots, you most likely think of their all-world defense. The one thing you don’t really think of is place-kicking. As good as the Patriots are in 2019, their one weakness is their kicking game.
From 1996 to 2005, the Patriots had Adam Vinatieri kicking for them. We all remember Vinatieri’s heroics against the Raiders in the snow, and his Super Bowl winning kicks against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Vinatieri was not only one of the best kickers in the league, he was incredibly clutch. If the game was ugly, you could rely on him to get those crucial three points. After Vinatieri left to join the Indianapolis Colts (and subsequently won another Super Bowl), the Patriots drafted a young kicker in the 4th round of the 2006 NFL Draft named Stephen Gostkowski … and he’s been there ever since.
Gostkowski turned himself into one of the best kickers in the league and prided himself on not missing any games, except for the 2010 season when he missed 8. Gostkowski has played in all 16 games from 2011 to 2018, drilling 88.3% of field goals during that time. He also made 21/30 field goals from 50+ yards, with a long of 62 yards in 2017, so his leg was a vital weapon in Bill Belichick’s arsenal. Gostkowski is the Patriots all-time leader in points and field goals, which is quite impressive considering who his predecessor was.
On October 2nd, news broke that Gostkowski, who’s 35 years old, was going to have season-ending hip surgery, which is a huge blow to the New England kicking game. In four games in 2019, Gostkowski made 7/8 field goals in 2019 but missed four extra points, which is uncharacteristic for him. After the Patriots placed Gostkowski on IR, they signed veteran kicker Mike Nugent, 37. So far, Nugent has been average, at best. He’s made only 5/8 field goals and he has not made a kick further than 37-yards. In fact, he’s only attempted one 40+ yard field goal and has not even attempted a 50+ yarder.
When the playoffs come, we all know the game slows down. Games get uglier, scores get lower, and kicking becomes vital. I doubt Bill Belichick trusts Nugent to make a long kick if needed and that’s a huge problem. We all know how important a kicker is down the stretch and in the playoffs (ask the Bears and Chargers), so the fact that the Patriots have a mediocre kicker is an issue. The available free agents aren’t exactly players you would tell your parents about either. Perhaps the Pats could make a trade, but knowing Belichick, he’s just going to avoid kicking at all costs. Luckily this defense is good enough to win games on their own and in the playoffs … they might have to. This defense is far too good to rely on a shitty kicker.
11:58 am ET update – The Falcons have just released Matt Bryant, so I would not be surprised if the Patriots make the move to bring him on board.