Replacement player

What pressure? Gostkowski has been an able successor to Vinatieri

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 4, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS - The statistics show that Stephen Gostkowski has been a better kicker than Adam Vinatieri over the last six years. He has made a higher percentage of field goals in his career and missed only one extra point.

Since Vinatieri left the Patriots for the Colts as a free agent following the 2005 season, Gostkowski has made 84.4 percent of his field goals and Vinatieri 82.9 percent.

The trend holds in the postseason. Gostkowski has made close to 87 percent of his field goals and Vinatieri a little more than 83 percent.

The differences are slight, but enough to lend credence to the idea that the Patriots did not take a step back when they replaced the popular and dependable Vinatieri with a rookie from the University of Memphis.

But Gostkowski, through no fault of his own, is missing an important line on his professional résumé. He has yet to win a playoff game with a field goal in the final minute.

“I’d welcome the opportunity. It just hasn’t happened yet,’’ Gostkowski said Thursday. “There’s really not much I can do about that except be prepared for it when the time comes.’’

Such situations were a specialty for Vinatieri. His 45-yard field goal through the teeth of a blizzard tied a division playoff game against the Raiders in 2002 with 27 seconds remaining. He then won the “Snow Bowl’’ with a 23-yard field goal in overtime.

Vinatieri also kicked field goals to win Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII. The first was as time expired and the second with four seconds to go. In all, Vinatieri kicked 18 game-winning field goals [regular season and postseason] with less than a minute remaining during his 10 seasons with the Patriots.

Gostkowski doesn’t have any, although he did kick the winner with 1:10 remaining in the Patriots’ 24-21 win over the Chargers in a division-round game in 2006. He also hit a 35-yarder with 1:56 remaining in overtime to beat the Ravens on Oct. 17, 2010. His 24-yard field goal with 1:51 remaining in regulation tied that game.

It would not be a surprise if Sunday’s Super Bowl came down to a last-second kick. The Patriots were beaten, 24-20, by the Giants earlier this season and are favored by 3 points on Sunday.

“I’m just excited to play and kick as many field goals and extra points as possible. If it comes down to the end of the game, I’ll be ready,’’ Gostkowski said.

For Gostkowski, it’s something he can’t help but think about. But he does not want to dwell on it, either.

“This game is so hyped up and publicized. You know what you’re getting into when you sign up. One thing is that I’ve never been scared to fail,’’ he said.

Gostkowski believes his background helps him handle the pressure. He originally attended Memphis on a baseball scholarship before joining the football team as a walk-on. A righthanded pitcher with a 90-mile-per-hour fastball, he had a 3.99 earned run average as a sophomore.

Baseball is a sport of constant failure, and learning how to rebound from mistakes gave Gostkowski the confidence he might not have gotten from football alone.

“Kicking hasn’t been the only sport in my life. I take experiences from everything I’ve done. I’ve dealt with difficult situations and I’ve struggled before in every sport I’ve played,’’ he said.

“If you go into a game thinking you’re going to screw up, you’re probably not going to be at a professional level. Stuff like that doesn’t cross my mind. When I go out in practice, I go out to make every kick. When I don’t, I try to make the next one. If I freaked out about every kick I missed in the NFL, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.’’

Gostkowski has handled playoff pressure well. In addition to kicking the winner against the Chargers in 2006, he kicked a 50-yarder earlier in that game, a postseason franchise record.

Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes has both flourished and failed in clutch moments. He missed two potential game-winners against the Packers in the 2008 NFC Championship game, but made a kick in overtime to send the Giants to the Super Bowl.

Tynes also made a 31-yard field goal in overtime to beat the 49ers in the NFC title game this season.

“It helps you mentally when you’ve been there before and been successful,’’ Tynes said. “Every kick is different, but I do have the advantage of having done it before.’’

Gostkowski isn’t looking at the Super Bowl as a chance to show he can perform in the waning seconds. His goal is to contribute to a victory.

“This game is a team game and it’s about winning a championship,’’ he said. “If they need me to kick five field goals and the game-winner, that’s great. If they need me to kick five extra points, that’s great. I’m ready, and anything can happen in each game.

“The toughest thing about this position is that you don’t know what situations you’ll be put in. You can’t make your own opportunities. You have to take advantage of the ones that you get the best that you can. That’s what I feel like I’ve done.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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