INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) – In the two weeks of buildup to Super Bowl XLVI, much of the pregame discussion has focused on Tom Brady, or Eli Manning, or the Giants’ pass rush, or Bill Belichick, or a host of other matchups.
But really, it might all come down to the right leg of Stephen Gostkowski.
Almost all predictions for this game state that it will certainly be a tight one. Perhaps 23-20 Giants, or 31-28 Patriots, and so forth. The difference between winning and losing could very well be a field goal, and it could come from the man who was not given the opportunity to make one four years ago on the same stage.
Despite that history and despite all that will be on the line Sunday night in Indianapolis, the 28-year-old kicker remains on an even keel heading into the weekend.
“If I freaked out about every kick I missed in the NFL, I wouldn’t be sitting up here right now,” Gostkowski said this week. “I go out there to make every kick and that’s my goal. I don’t think too much into it to tell you the truth. I want to win like everyone else.”
As Gostkowski explains his confidence, it’s hard not to believe him. At the same time, given the unforgettable scene that played out in Super Bowl XLII, it’s difficult for outsiders to believe that’s erased from Gostkowski’s mind.
The Patriots led the Giants 7-3 at halftime that night, and on the opening drive of the second half, Tom Brady led his team into field-goal range. Or so we all thought. On third-and-7 from the 25, Michael Strahan blew by right tackle Nick Kaczur and had a free shot on Brady. The sack left the Patriots with a fourth-and-13 from the 31-yard line, but a 48-yard field goal was still within the second-year kicker’s range.
But Bill Belichick surprised everyone by going for it on fourth down. Brady’s pass to Jabar Gaffney sailed out of the left side of the end zone, and the Giants took over on downs. The Patriots, of course, lost by three points.
Michael Felger asked Gostkowski if he ever was told why the team didn’t attempt the field goal.
“No. My job is to kick, and if they send me out there, then they send me out there,” Gostkowski told Felger. “It’s not my job to question what the best coach in football [decides].”
While Super Bowl XLII was four years ago, Gostkowski and the Patriots saw firsthand just two weeks ago how significant a kicker can be in a crucial situation of a playoff game. Had Billy Cundiff made the 32-yard chip shot in the AFC Championship Game, it could very well have been the Ravens preparing for the Giants this week.
Gostkowski said he wasn’t watching when Cundiff missed the kick, but he doesn’t spend much time considering the possibility of making a similar mistake.
“One thing is that I’ve never been scared to fail,” Gostkowski said. “Everybody has failures in life and everybody has successes. I don’t prepare for the failures because I don’t expect to fail. Everybody does, but it’s how you bounce back. That’s what makes people last a long time in your profession, especially professional athletics.”
A recent failure by an opponent is hardly the only bit of pressure facing Gostkowski. While it was six full seasons ago when Gostkowski joined the team as a fourth-round draft pick, he still had the unenviable task of replacing a legend in Adam Vinatieri, who made more clutch kicks in big moments than you can count on both hands.
While Gostkowski may not have Snow Bowl or Super Bowl kicks on his resume, he’s been clutch in his own right. He’s successfully kicked 88.1 percent of his attempts in games decided by seven or fewer points. He’s 89.1 percent successful in December and January, playing many of those games in the wintry conditions of New England, and he’s 13-for-15 in nine playoff games.
So when it comes to nerves, Gostkowski doesn’t see Sunday’s test as any different from an August game against the Rams.
“I feel like I do a good job not getting overwhelmed by the situation,” he said. “Even playing in preseason games are nerve-racking. You’re playing for your job and for a spot on the team. It picks up as the year goes on, but you’ve been doing it all year. Although the stage might be bigger, the goal posts are the same size, the football is the same and the guys playing around me are the same. If you’re confident in your ability, you should be able to have success.”
Gostkowski’s saying all the right things and appears to be in a good place heading into the biggest game of his life. It’s when those “ifs” and “shoulds” turn into “musts” and “now” that he — not Brady, not Belichick — could have the chance to write history.
Tune in to Super Bowl XLVI between the Patriots and Giants on 98.5 The Sports Hub, the only place to hear the local call of the game. Pregame coverage begins Sunday, February 5 at noon.