Heating up in the cold
FOXBOROUGH - With the temperature last night at 24 degrees and the windchill dipping to 12, the elements could have been a factor during the AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium, although you wouldn’t know judging by the first half for the Patriots, who put a bone-chilling beating on the Broncos, 45-10.
Poor weather conditions have provided some lasting memories here, none more famous than the 16-13 overtime win in the playoffs against the Raiders Jan. 19, 2002, during a driving snowstorm. Raiders fans remember the fumble that wasn’t. Patriots fans remember two kicks that were, both by Adam Vinatieri: an improbable 45-yarder through the flakes in the final minute to tie it, then a 23-yarder in overtime to win it, producing the franchise’s best end zone snow angel, courtesy of Lonie Paxton.
Vinatieri is gone, but Stephen Gostkowski has been here for six seasons, and has seen his share of miserable conditions to kick in. Last night’s cold and wind might not have been ideal, but Gostkowski knows the drill by now: Don’t second-guess Mother Nature, and just be yourself.
“You’re never going to get completely used to the cold, but my blood has definitely thickened up in the past six years,’’ Gostkowski said last week.
Is there anything Gostkowski does differently during a game when the temperature drops?
“Sit on the heated benches,’’ he said, although he did some standing, too, booting six extra points and a 20-yard field goal last night.
The Patriots’ other kicker, punter Zoltan Mesko, wasn’t concerned with accuracy.
Mesko grew up near Cleveland and played his college ball at Michigan, so he’s accustomed to punting in cold weather. As any Northerner knows, there’s no use griping about it.
“When cold weather factors into the game, the handicap is placed on both special teams units,’’ Mesko said. “It doesn’t only affect the kickers, but also the returners, how do they deal with it.
The Denver punt returners weren’t affected at all; Mesko only punted twice last night, and neither was returned. In fact, Mesko was second on his own team in punting; Tom Brady lofted one 48 yards, with the roll. Mesko’s average was 39.
Neither Mesko nor Gostkowski acknowledged to any kind of equipment change to deal with sub-freezing temperatures and stiffer footballs. No extra pairs of socks, especially for Mesko, because “you don’t want extra padding, you want the bone to hit it.’’
Unlike the baseball player or golfer playing in cold weather who feels a painful sting when making contact that isn’t flush, the Patriots’ kickers don’t feel a thing. If they do, something really bad has happened.
They might bundle up the rest of their bodies, but Gostkowski and Mesko weren’t going to make any changes when it comes to their work gear, or their preparation.
“The worst thing you can try to do is too much, so I just try to stay within myself and do what I’ve done all year, and let the results happen from there,’’ said Gostkowski.
With so much at stake, a little wintry weather seemed like a small price to pay.
“I’d play in the Arctic Circle,’’ Mesko said. “I’m excited for the playoffs.’’