By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Whenever anybody talks about the Patriots and their sustained run of unparalleled success since 2001, they generally speak of their remarkable stability at head coach and quarterback. Often overlooked in that assessment is how stable the team has been at the kicker position.

While the importance of a kicker is notably lower than the man running the sidelines and the man taking every offensive snap, it’s been an absolute luxury for the Patriots to have been able to have very few concerns about their kicker for the past decade-and-a-half.

That much crystallized this weekend, when Stephen Gostkowski went 3-for-4 on PATs and moved past Adam Vinatieri on the list of most postseason PATs made all time. Gostkowski also went 3-for-3 on his field goals, moving him to third all time in postseason points and into sole possession of fourth place for most postseason field goals made in NFL history.

It’s remarkable, in the sense that for any other coach, letting Vinatieri leave via free agency back in 2006 would be seen as a major misfire in roster management, considering Vinatieri has remained a reliable kicker into his mid-40s. Yet Bill Belichick simply broke from the norm and used a fourth-round pick to draft Gostkowski out of Memphis. And save for an injury that shortened the kicker’s 2010 season, the Patriots have not had to worry at all about Gostkowski.

Vinatieri joined the Patriots in 1996 and got off to a moderate start in the NFL, but it was his postseason heroics in 2001 — first in the Snow Bowl vs. Oakland, then in the Super Bowl vs. St. Louis — when he achieved mythical status in the region.

Even with his shaky start to this season, Gostkowski still ranks fourth in all-time field-goal percentage at 87.1 percent.

In terms of all-time postseason field goals made, it’s unlikely that Gostkowski (currently with 29) will ever catch Vinatieri, who holds the record with 56. But the fact that the Patriots have replaced one of those men with the other speaks to their impressive run of good fortune — and wise roster management — at a position that oftentimes can be critical.


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