By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If you’re worried about Stephen Gostkowski, you have good reason to be.
The concerns over the Patriots kicker obviously do not stem just from Thursday night, when he missed a 56-yard field goal in the team’s preseason loss to the Jaguars. He did make a field goal and went 3-for-3 on extra points, but the miss – which may have been shanked from thirty-six yards – was still an ominous sign that Gostkowski’s less-than-perfect performance in the past two seasons is extending into 2017.
After nine seasons of mostly impeccable field goal kicking for the Patriots, Gostkowski took a marked dip in the past two seasons, especially on extra points. Everyone knows about the infamous missed PAT that ultimately doomed the Patriots in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, but he followed that up with three missed extra points in the 2016 regular season and missed PATs in both the AFC Championship against the Steelers and Super Bowl LI against the Falcons.
Gostkowski’s peculiar recent struggles with extra points, which the NFL moved back to the 15-yard line in 2015, have prompted calls for the Patriots to “bring someone in” to “push” Gostkowski and “give him some competition”.
It’s astonishing that so many people feel that would make a legit difference.
Would it really matter if Bill Belichick bothered bringing in, say, former Bills and Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter to give Gostkowski the proverbial push? Maybe you feel Belichick should coax Josh Scobee or Shayne Graham to come out of retirement to give Gostkowski a swift kick in the ass? Better yet, perhaps Belichick should sign 25-year-old former seventh-round pick Zach Hocker for his sixth crack at making an NFL team since 2014.
Maybe those moves would be better than doing nothing. But would any of those guys really make Gostkowski shake in his cleats? Would Gostkowski look at any free-agent kicker and see a serious threat to take his job? The answer is no, and there’s no reason any of them would inspire as much or more confidence than Gostkowski does right now.
To be fair, the Patriots could have drafted a kicker back in April. That may have at least perked him up a bit. They could have gone for Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez or Georgia Tech’s Harrison Butker, both of which went in the seventh round to the Browns and Panthers, respectively. If they screwed anything up at the kicker position, it’s in this area. Either kid coming to Foxboro would have sparked that “competition” people have been fiend-ing to get for two years. It certainly would have made for some scorching sports talk.
But with the way so many have called for the Patriots to at least work out another kicker, it appears that just any would satisfy them. Such a signing would represent a bigger threat than a trick-shot kicker from YouTube, but not big enough to put a dent in Gostkowski’s job security.
There’s no doubt that No. 3 has regressed in the last two seasons, with some of his missed extra points being all too crucial to the Patriots’ prospects of winning in the playoffs. Frankly, he’s fortunate he didn’t become the end-of-season scapegoat for the second straight year, after his missed PAT in the Super Bowl forced the Patriots to score on a two-point conversion at the end of the fourth quarter.
But once the draft passed and the Patriots entered camp with Gostkowski as the clear kicker, the message was clear: they’re not bringing anyone in. They’re not creating a competition. At least not this season. At this point, Gostkowski’s struggles would have to reach astronomical levels for any kind of drastic move to take place.
Still, it’s not going to happen any time soon. And there’s little reason why it even should. No one off the street would do enough to make Gostkowski worry about his job, nor should they. At the end of the day, it’s up to Gostkowski to figure out his extra point problem, which could simply be a mental block. He needs to fix it on his own.
Because the mere presence of another kicker won’t do anything to change that.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.