By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Sometimes in sports, with the power of retrospect, we like to ask questions. Questions such as … Did the Patriots screw up when they let Stephen Gostkowski go?
That is a question we pondered back at the end of September, when the veteran kicker was on a hot streak.
Now in the middle of November, it’s only fair to follow up and say without a doubt that the answer is no.
Gostkowski and the Titans were on national television on Thursday night, in a game they lost to the Colts, 34-17. Gostkowski wasn’t the biggest special teams problem on the Tennessee roster — the team had a punt blocked and also a 17-yard punt — but he nevertheless missed his eighth field goal of the season.
Gostkowski’s miss came from 44 yards out, early in the fourth quarter. A successful field goal would have cut Indy’s lead to seven points. The miss — which was pushed to the right ever so slightly — instead preceded a lightning-fast 66-yard touchdown drive that essentially ended the Titans’ night.
Interestingly, Gostkowski is 6-for-7 on field goals from 50 or more yards this year, but he’s now 2-for-7 on field goals in the range of 40-49 yards. He’s 4-for-6 on field goals from less than 40 yards out, though he’s a solid 25-for-27 on PATs.
All in all, it’s a rather strange year for the kicker who not long ago was the most accurate foot man in NFL history. His eight missed field goals in nine games played this year matches his eight missed field goals spread across 48 games in the combined seasons of 2013-15. His five misses in the 40-49 range are more than he’s had in any full season. He finished nine full seasons with two or fewer misses from 40-49 yards, successfully kicking 77.4 of them in his career. Most recently, from 2013-19, Gostkowski successfully kicked 82.6 percent of his kicks in the range of 40-49 yards.
As a result of his struggles, Gostkowski has seen his career field goal percentage drop by more than a full point, from 87.4 percent to 86.2 percent. And the spotlight’s beginning to burn a little bit hot, with headlines like “Is it time for the Titans to move on from Stephen Gostkowski?” popping up.
Head coach Mike Vrabel was obviously not a happy camper after Thursday’s loss, and he didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement of his former teammate.
Vrabel on if he's concerned about Gostkowski: "We have to evaluate everything we do. … We all have jobs to do, and we have to do them better @Titans
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) November 13, 2020
“We missed the field goal. It didn’t go in,” Vrabel also said.
He added about all of the special teams miscues: “Certainly things that we’ll have to improve quickly.”
The 6-3 Titans are now tied with the Colts atop the AFC South. With a trip to Baltimore next week and a rematch in Indy scheduled the week after that, the Titans can’t afford to waste much time. So it might be safe to assume the kicker position is going to be evaluated closely in the coming hours and days.
But from the perspective of the Patriots, where Nick Folk is 14-for-16 on field goals and 14-for-15 on PATs, the decision to move on from the leading scorer does not need to be second-guessed any longer. A year removed from hip surgery, Gostkowski does not appear to be the kicker he used to be. Not in 2020, at least.