By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — On the one hand, the Buccaneers may have been able to pull off a major upset had kicker Nick Folk just made his damn field goals. On the other hand, you can’t take away from the Patriots’ win just because they have Stephen Gostkowski and the Bucs have Nick Folk.
If Gostkowski’s ever-resilient critics want to be consistent, then they should give the Patriots kicker credit when he plays well in addition to ripping him when he misses. They should at least acknowledge that even a shaky Gostkowski is better than most kickers in the league, and a far cry from what is happening in Tampa and other NFL cities.
The Bucs are now reportedly “arranging kicker workouts” in a not-so-subtle effort to replace Folk, who was already a replacement for all-time draft bust Roberto Aguayo (reminder that the Bucs drafted a kicker in the second round and then cut him after one season). You can’t fault him for missing a 56-yard field goal try at the end of the first half, but his misses from both 49 and 31 – 31!!! – yards in the fourth quarter were just heinous.
Folk is now an incredible 2-for-7 (29 percent) on field goals in his last two games. This is what it looks like when kicker tryouts are actually necessary.
Gostkowski, meanwhile, is a perfect 12-for-12 (by my calculation that’s about 100 percent) on the season, with his only blemish being a missed extra point in Week 2 against the Saints.
It’s fair to wag a finger at Gostkowski for that missed PAT, but at the end of the day you’re nitpicking. It’s also curious that Bill Belichick has decided several times this season to punt from within his opponents’ 40-yard line, which could mean he wants to limit Gostkowski’s attempts from 50-plus yards. But he did make a 58-yarder last weekend against the Panthers. He’s 1-for-1 from that distance. Perfect!
Sure, Gostkowski has technically not been flawless and Belichick may be subtly “protecting” him with those short punts. But when you actually say out loud that you want the Patriots to bring kickers in off the street to “push” him, just remember that you’re talking about bringing in guys who got passed over for Nick Folk.
Gostkowski is one of only 12 kickers who is perfect on field goals this season, leads the league in extra points made, and is second in total field goals converted. Only six kickers (Greg Zuerlein, Dan Bailey, Matt Bryant, Mason Crosby, Cairo Santos, Giorgio Tavecchio) have not missed at all. So if you want to use Gostkowski’s single missed PAT as an argument that he is “only” a top-seven kicker, have yourself a day. But keep in mind what you’re really complaining about there.
And Thursday night illustrates how the Patriots’ kicking situation could be so, so much worse.
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 @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.