Ever since missing a crucial extra point in the New England Patriots’ AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos in January 2016, Stephen Gostkowski has been the subject of frequent criticism by fans and columnists alike. Additional unsuccessful attempts in the three consecutive Super Bowls that followed the Patriots’ loss in Denver did not help his case either, and further seemed to complicate his legacy with the organization.
With the Patriots announcing Gostkowski’s release on Monday, those debates have been restarted and his legacy in New England will once again be scrutinized and hotly debated. Here’s the thing, though: it should not be.
Yes, Gostkowski has had his fair share of misses in prominent situations, but he was still one of the best and most reliable kickers in all of football for an extended period of time. He was a big part of three teams that won the Super Bowl. He appeared in a combined 232 regular season and playoff games. He was voted to four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. He ended his 14-year stint with the Patriots as the organization’s all-time leading scorer.
Gostkowski also successfully replaced a legend.
When Adam Vinatieri left New England during the league’s 2006 free agency to join the Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots went on to invest a fourth-round draft pick in the Memphis product to replace a future Hall of Famer that has played a key role in helping the organization win its first three championships. And while Gostkowski’s tenure with his new club started and ended somewhat inconsistently, he still properly filled Vinatieri’s shoes — and then some.
A look at the statistics illustrates just how well Gostkowski performed between the 2006 and the 2019 seasons:
Regular season field goals: 374-for-428 (87.4%)
Playoffs field goals: 39-for-44 (88.6%)
Regular season extra points: 653-for-664 (98.3%)
Playoff extra points: 88-for-92 (95.7%)
Those numbers are impressive across the board, especially considering that a) Gostkowski also was one of the NFL’s best kickoff specialists during his entire 14-year tenure with the Patriots, and b) Gostkowski had to regularly kick in the tough Gillette Stadium conditions. Numbers presented in a vacuum only tell one part of his story, however, so comparing them to the franchise legend that is Vinatieri does add some further context to the equation.
And as can be seen, Gostkowski has him beat in all but one category:
Regular season field goals: 263-for-321 (81.9%)
Playoff field goals: 26-for-34 (76.5%)
Regular season extra points: 367-for-374 (98.1%)
Playoff extra points 39-for-39 (100%)
Vinatieri was generally less accurate a kicker during his 10 years in New England when compared to Gostkowski’s 14 seasons, and only was more successful on playoff extra points (the league’s 2015 rule changes that moved the PAT-spot back from the 2- to the 15-yard line made Gostkowski’s final five postseason runs more difficult in this area, however). Other than that, Vinatieri’s successor was usually more often on-point with his attempts.
Vinatieri’s spot in Patriots and NFL history is set in stone, though, considering his highlight-reel kicks that helped propel the most successful dynasty in league history — from his 45-yard field goal to send the 2001 playoff game against the then-Oakland Raiders to overtime, to his game-winners in Super Bowls 36 and 38. While he too did have some notable misses (including two in Super Bowl 38), his status as arguably the greatest clutch kicker of all time remains unquestioned.
Gostkowski’s legacy is a different one, but that does not change his standing among the best and most consistent players the franchise has ever employed. It is therefore only fitting that the final playoff kick of his career helped the Patriots win their sixth title: late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 53, Gostkowski successfully made a 41-yard attempt to put the contest out of reach in his team’s favor — further proof of how blessed the Patriots have been in regards to their kicking situation since the mid-90s.
Despite that, there will be countless discussions about the 36-year-old on sports radio and in online comment sections — sign up at Pats Pulpit today to participate! — even though he has already secured his spot in franchise history a while back: Stephen Gostkowski was forced to replace a legend, and he did so masterfully.