I have to admit, during the football void that is the time between OTAs and training camp, many of us bloggers are trying to fill that void with whatever we can get our hands on. The fire hose we normally see from mainstream media sources slows to a trickle, so we're left with All-Decade junk from ESPN or fighting about running backs in the AFC East. It's all good because it generates discussion, but we need a little more analysis, some more meat if you will.
You will see this series on a number of the other SB Nation blogs. Basically, it's a look at what players we think will have the greatest impact on the 2009 season. In my case, I don't have this in any particular order. In fact, I only have a marginal idea who the other 9 will be (well, maybe not marginal; I have at least three other spots figured out). With that said, I give you #10: K Stephen Gostkowski.
We all know the story by now. On January 9th, 2002, the infamous Tuck Rule came into play, Brady completed a pass to David Patten, thus putting Adam Vinatieri in field goal range. Well, if you could call 45 yards, winding, and a snow storm within field goal rang. Adam became famous for hitting one of the most difficult kicks in the history of the sport and sending the game against the Raiders into overtime. Tom Brady and team drove the ball 61 yards to again put Vinatieri in range where he put up the game winning points to send the Patriots to the AFCCG against the Steelers. NE won that game 24-17 and later defeated the "Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI by...wait for it...a field goal. Vinatieri would go on to be one of the most clutch kickers in the game, helping the Patriots win two subsequent Super Bowls, both by three points. The importance of his field goals can't be denied. Adam would later move to the Colts after the 2005 season.
These are the shoes Stephen Gostkowski had to fill. And he's done a dang good job of it, too. Opposing coaches used to throw their arms in the air when Vinatieri came on the field, knowing it was practially a guaranteed three points. I think Gostkowski has reached the same status, albeit a little more quietly; he may not have the big kicks that Adam has under his belt, but he's no less prolific. Stats like perfection in the 2006 postseason, an 80 yard touchback during a kickoff (you read that right!!), and three touchbacks in the 2006 AFCCG solidified him as one of the elite kickers in the NFL.
The Patriots' 2007 season was a thing of beauty. Tom Brady, playing with his new toys like a kid at Christmas, led this team to an unprecedented 18-1 season. That "One" will always sting me, but it was a darn good season to watch, don't you think? While much of the credit went to Brady and his new receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Gostkowski quietly racked up one heck of a season. Gostkowski is the single season record holder for PATs (Points After Touchdowns) with a perfect 74 points attempted and made.
In 2008, Gostkowski was no less prolific, garnering a nod to the Pro Bowl by players and coaches (fan votes didn't put him in the top five). He also made AP's All Pro First Team.
Career-wise, Stephen places in the Top 5 for Field Goal percentage, a tiny 1.2% from the leader. At 20-29 he's 90.9%, 30-39 he's 88.6%, and 40-49 he's 70%. At 50+ he just happens to be 100% with two attempts. He also manages a heck of a lot of touchbacks during kickoffs, in particular five out of six in Week 2 against New York.
Good kickers are difference makers and need ice in their veins. Gostkowski has been there for us, but his contract is up in 2009. Bill, fix that please.