By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If the Dolphins ended up completing their epic comeback and shocking the Patriots in Foxboro on Sunday, one of the big storylines to emerge from the game (besides this one) would have been Stephen Gostkowski’s untimely missed field goal just before the Dolphins’ final drive of the game. The 39-yard chip shot would have put the Patriots up 10 points with just 1:08 left in the game and squeezed the Dolphins down to their last breaths, but instead gave Ryan Tannehill a chance to tie the game as the ball sailed to the right of the goalposts.
The Patriots ultimately survived Gostkowski’s miscue with an interception in the end zone to seal the win, but the miss made the team work harder than they needed to and made fans needlessly squirm for another 15 minutes or so. Gostkowski had drilled a 34-yard field goal earlier in the game and nailed all four extra points, and was coming off a season debut against the Arizona Cardinals that earned him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors, which makes his crunch-time miss all the more unexpected.
Gostkowski’s late-game miss certainly made memories of his missed extra point in the AFC Championship Game bubble back to the surface for the most cynical of Patriots fans. It would be hard to argue that the missed PAT was in a high-leverage situation, as it happened in the first quarter, but you could argue that every kick ever in playoff games are must-make. There’s a reason Gostkowski carries the highest cap hit in the league at the kicker position; he’s not supposed to miss extra points, and he’s certainly not supposed to miss 39-yard field goals when the team has a chance to put the game out of reach.
I can already hear the anti-media types out there sizzling and seething over me daring to question the immortal Gostkowski on the day after a win, so it’s important to note that Gostkowski is indeed one of the best kickers in the NFL, if not the best. He even added a true “clutch kick” to his resume last season with a game-winner over the New York Giants. He just has these moments from time to time where he suddenly becomes oddly unreliable, where he looks more like an impostor thrown in to sabotage the Patriots. Those misses have come in crucial spots at times, and he had another one on Sunday against the Dolphins.
If it makes me an insufferable troll to bring up Gostkowski’s miss, then so be it. If it’s unfair to say he should make literally 100 percent of his field goals, fine. But I’ll stand by it. He shouldn’t ever miss a 39-yard field goal, let alone in a spot where his team needed him to ice the game.
Again, it’s worth noting how awesomely reliable Gostkowski usually is, and has been for most of his career. If he can hit 30+ field goals in 2016, he will become just the third kicker in NFL history (David Akers, John Carney) to do it four times in his career. With 1,348 career points scored through 10+ seasons, he has a good chance to finish his career as one of the top-scoring kickers of all time. For a guy who is statistically kicking his way into elite-of-the-elite territory, he sure has too many of these head-scratching moments.
You may not want to hear it, but you will hear a LOT of it if it ends up affecting the final score of a game that the Patriots lose. You heard it in January, you came damn close to hearing it again after Sunday. Gostkowski is mostly great, but there are times where he needs to be better. He will need to be better than he was on Sunday.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.