Gostkowski on IR; Graham on the job
FOXBOROUGH — Shayne Graham kept two pieces of packed luggage in his car, one for overnight trips and the other for the possibility of a long-term assignment. Such is the life of a kicker in search of work.
That his itinerary will include a trip to Pittsburgh this weekend to kick for the Patriots was not something Graham expected.
But when Stephen Gostkowski was placed on injured reserve yesterday, ending his season, Graham had a new job and the Patriots a significant challenge only a few days before their showdown against the Steelers.
Graham has not made a field goal in an NFL game since last season. He will be working with a rookie holder in Zoltan Mesko and new long snapper Matt Katula, who was signed yesterday after Jake Ingram was released.
“We’ll do the best we can in the time that we have,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “I know those guys have gotten started on it already. We know there’s a lot of work to do, so we’ll get at it.
“They’ve all played in the league. They’re all hard-working guys and I’m sure they’ll do what they can in the next few days to get it the best that it can be.’’
Gostkowski has a torn quadriceps in his thigh that could require surgery.
For Belichick, having to find a new kicker in the middle of a season is a first since he became coach of the Patriots. Adam Vinatieri had the job from 1996-2005 and did not miss a game. Gostkowski took over in 2006, and Sunday will mark the first game he has missed.
“That’s a bummer,’’ said quarterback Tom Brady. “He’s been a hell of a player here and a great kicker. We’ve had a few guys put on IR that are real good, dependable players. He’ll be missed.’’
Gostkowski was 10 of 13 on field goals and had 15 touchbacks on kickoffs, third-most in the NFL. His injury is expected to heal before next season.
“It’s definitely big shoes to fill,’’ Graham said. “But I feel confident that I’m going to play my best and hopefully the team won’t skip a beat and will continue to perform well.’’
In Graham, who turns 33 next month, the Patriots were able to find a player with 10 years of experience who made the Pro Bowl in 2005. Graham has converted 85.2 percent of his field goal attempts, the sixth-best mark in league history and slightly better than Gostkowski’s 84.3 career percentage.
“His performance in the league is definitely a positive for him,’’ said Belichick. “He’s had a good career, an outstanding career.’’
But after seven seasons with the Bengals, Graham missed two kicks that cost him his job. In a wild-card game against the Jets last Jan. 9, Graham missed field goal attempts of 35 and 28 yards in the second half of a 24-14 loss.
“Probably one of my worst games of my life,’’ Graham said. “I don’t think it had anything to do with what kind of game it was. It was just one of those days for me. I can’t wait to have that chance [again]. But at this point, I’m looking forward to Pittsburgh.’’
Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien worked with Graham in 2002 when both were with the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots almost certainly took note of Graham being 9 of 11 on field goals at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, one of the league’s toughest facilities for a kicker because of the wind and grass surface.
“Every goal post is the exact same dimensions, so that’s the way I look at it,’’ said Graham. “I do know that I have played on that field before, played on the turf conditions, the wind conditions. You learn from it and you make the best of it.
“All those times I played there in years past are all good memories, but they won’t really mean anything until you strap up your shoes and play this Sunday.’’
Graham was with the Ravens in training camp, getting cut just before the season. He worked out for the Patriots in early October. He then signed with the Giants and kicked four extra points against the Lions Oct. 17, filling in for an injured Lawrence Tynes.
Since then, Graham has worked out for teams once a week and stayed sharp by kicking on his own at Virginia Tech, his alma mater.
“The fact that I haven’t been on a team every game this year makes me a little hungry and makes me look forward to getting my career going on again,’’ said Graham, who kept a few footballs in his car in case he ran across an open field. “I’ve been striking the ball well and I look forward to continuing that when it matters.’’
Graham rejected an offer from the Lions, preferring the opportunity to kick under more pressure for the Patriots.
“From the outside looking in, you always hear great things about this place,’’ he said. “I’m just excited to be a part of it. Guys like being here, guys like playing here, and guys like to win here. That’s what I want to be a part of.
“You never wish for a [poor] performance or injury on anyone. But when you get your opportunities, you try and make the best of them.’’
Graham is confident that he, Mesko, and Katula can find the proper rhythm before Sunday. He and Katula were in training camp with the Ravens this summer.
“I don’t feel it’s going to be a challenge,’’ said Graham. “Matt’s very capable. Matt’s been snapping for six years. We get along great, and I think, with Mesko, we’re going to get a great operation.’’
As the news of Gostkowski’s status filtered through the locker room yesterday, Graham stood surrounded by reporters and said he hoped to keep his new job long enough to get a box of clothes shipped in. He already had the basics down.
“My goal is to come in here and perform at my best, to perform well for the team and help us win games,’’ he said.