Stephen Gostkowski quietly is New England’s all-time leading scorer but he speaks up here about extra-point distance, the kicker-holder-snapper relationship and that costly miss in the AFC Championship Game loss
Enough about the drama in New England. Suspension this, Deflategate that. We’ve decided to break the endless cycle of Patriots talking points and discuss another New England player who scores frequently: kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Before training camp started in July, the team’s all-time leading scorer took a break on the L.A. set of an upcoming Pepsi commercial to talk to The MMQB about adapting to last season’s PAT distance, the future of the kickoff, the mindset of a kicker and, okay, a little bit about his quarterbacks.
KAHLER: You appeared on the CBS drama “American Gothic” this offseason. How did you get involved with that?
GOSTKOWSKI: They reached out. They were looking for a local player to act in the show because it is Boston-based and the plot centers around a family in Boston. They needed someone who looked like they were into politics, so I guess I fit the bill. They reached out to my agent to ask if I wanted to do it, and it was right during that down time where we don’t have much to do, so I thought it would be a really fun and unique opportunity. I thought my kids would think it would be cool to see Dad on TV. I jumped on the opportunity to do it and had a blast. It’s a lot of work to do one line in a TV show! I was there for, like, 12 hours, but it was a ton of fun, and the show seems like it is getting really good so I was very excited to be a part of it.
KAHLER: Did you have a viewing party when your episode aired?
GOSTKOWSKI: Honestly, we just had a baby girl a month ago, so we watched it the next day. But all my friends watched it, I was getting a ton of texts from some teammates, making fun of me, but that’s par for the course anytime you are on TV. Me and my wife and our two older kids watched it the next day when we had caught up on a little bit of sleep. It was really cool to see—it was kind of weird to see yourself on TV. I know I’m on TV all the time playing, but that is a more natural setting for me. It was a really cool experience, everyone was really nice to me and said I did a good job so I was very thankful for that.
KAHLER: Will there be more acting in your future?
GOSTKOWSKI: I think if there is opportunity, possibly. Sometimes things just pop up right in front of your face and you have to take advantage of it.
KAHLER: I think everyone is anxious to watch Jimmy Garoppolo for the first four games of the season. Can you tell me something about Garoppolo that America does not know?
GOSTKOWSKI: It’s not really a secret, but he is super tan all the time. I don’t know if he goes to a tanning bed … I don’t know. In all seriousness, Jimmy is a great dude, he is such a hard worker, funny dude, he seems like he has a great head on his shoulders and is very confident, which you like to see in your teammates. We’ve always had guys step up in other spots and we have a long way to go until the first game. It’s not quite the Patriot Way to forecast how he is going to do in a game. We know that he is going to work hard, and Tom will work hard, the whole team will work to get ready for that first game in Arizona.
KAHLER: You missed an extra point against the Broncos in last season’s AFC Championship Game, which ultimately forced the Patriots into attempting a game-tying two-point conversion. What were you feeling in those moments?
GOSTKOWSKI: Any time I screw up I feel bad about it. You never want to leave points out on the field, especially in a game when you know it is going to be close. I try to not ever make excuses and I try to pick myself up to make the next kick, and that’s what I did. I think the emotion of losing the game by two points hit me after the fact. But during the game if I have a bad play, I just shake it off and move on to the next play. The totality of the season ending after such a great year, and then having that play in the game, it was tough to deal with for a little bit. But you have confidence in your ability and you move on and try to make the next kick and that’s what I do. Everyone feels bad when you lose and you screw up, it's part of the game and you have to learn from it and hope that it doesn’t happen again.
KAHLER: How long did it take you to move on from that moment? Were you still thinking about it a few weeks later?
GOSTKOWSKI: It took me a decent amount, but I am not one to dwell on anything for too long. I beat myself up pretty hard on a weekly basis anytime I have a bad game, so I beat myself up for a little bit, but then I got over it. I personally had such a great season up until that point, and I’ve had a long career and been on a lot of really good teams. So I try to focus on the positives instead of dwelling on the negatives. You’ll go down a dark road if you just dwell on every time you screw up. We play a very fickle position. If I make nine kicks out of 10, people are going to talk about the one I missed. This is my 11th season coming up. I know how people react to it and how people look at our position that we should never screw up. You just learn to deal with it and you end up saying, screw what everyone else thinks, and you just go out there and do your job.
KAHLER: That was the only extra point you missed last season and your first missed extra point in nine years. Did you feel affected at all by the 13-yard change in distance for the extra point?
GOSTKOWSKI: It was definitely a challenge, especially late in the year if there was bad weather or if it was really windy—you have a lot less room for error the farther back you go. I took it on as a challenge and tried to do the best that I could. Unfortunately I did miss that one at the end, but we made 55 extra points that season. The distance change was a fun challenge—it can get a little stale doing the same thing over and over again. To switch it up was nice—it felt like every play really mattered. So I tried to take that mentality with it. The extra point had gotten to be so easy that you didn’t have to think about it going out there. Now you have to focus a little more and make sure you are a little more perfect when you go out there.
I just try to calm myself down and not think too much. I try to play stupid, I sing a song in my head when I go out there. I am basically just trying to be a robot.
KAHLER: How did the distance change affect the way you trained?
GOSTKOWSKI: I just practiced that spot a lot because I knew playing on a team that scores a ton of points meant that we would be kicking a ton of extra points like we have every year I have been there. Every day when I started practicing, the majority of my kicks would come from that spot. I just tried to focus a little more and make sure I didn’t take anything for granted. It doesn’t take much to miss a kick. It takes a lot for it to go right, so you just have to be focused and on top of your game at all times.
KAHLER: You led the league with 69 touchbacks last season. What do you think of the change to the touchback rule, placing it at the 25-yard line? Will it be changing your kickoff strategy at all?
GOSTKOWSKI: Even when you are trying to get a touchback, there are a lot of times late in the year in New England that it is so cold and windy that it is hard to get a touchback anyway. I think our special teams have always had really good coverage, so I think they are going to be licking their chops trying to get chances to go out there and make the tackle. Five yards is a lot in the NFL, so we'll just have to see what the coaches do with the strategy. I’ll be prepared for whatever they want, if they want me to hang it up a little more and not kick it 30 yards than I’ll do that; if they want me to just hang it away and kick touchbacks, then I’ll do that. Whatever the coaches want me to do and is necessary at the time for our team. Hopefully there aren’t so many changes with the kickoff that they end up getting rid of it. It seems like it is heading that way, but I think it is a great play that brings a lot of excitement and I wish they could get back to that.
KAHLER: In 10 years, do you think the kickoff will still be part of the game?
GOSTKOWSKI: I hope so. All I know is what I hear people talk about. But it is a great play. If you look at the past four or five Super Bowls, there have been a couple returns for touchdowns. The big ones end up changing games, and there have been some great returns throughout the year. It’s a fun battle for the special teams, and it’s a very exciting play where one guy can go 100 yards and score a touchdown in one play. Hopefully they can find a way to keep making it safer, and still keep the play in the game because there are a lot of guys on each team that make their living by covering kicks and kicking and returning the ball, so hopefully they find a happy medium with the safety of the play and the excitement of the play.
KAHLER: Ryan Allen is your holder, and Joe Cardona is your long snapper. Describe the relationship among the three of you.
GOSTKOWSKI: You have to be really close with your snapper and your holder. Your job is very dependent on them, and if they aren’t doing their job right, they can make you look really silly. But Ryan and Joe are so good, I would dare to say that Ryan is the best holder in the NFL. I mean, he is so good. He does such a good job. He has been with me for three years and I have made the Pro Bowl every year he’s been holding for me. It’s been quite a ride with him. And Joe was so good as a rookie last season and it's nice to have continuity and have the same teammates for a couple years. I’ve gone through a ton of snappers and holders in my career so far, so hopefully as long as I’m here we can all stick together for awhile. And Joe is a member of the Navy, which is really cool and has been an added bonus to the team. It has brought a cool dynamic to our team. I’ve had a lot of good holders and snappers since I’ve been there, and it’s a lot better when you can all get along. We get along great, we have thousands of inside jokes but it would be probably not appropriate to talk about all of them. When you are a specialist, a snapper, a holder, a kicker or a coverage guy, you know what the other person goes through, and sometimes you are that person’s only friend when things aren't going well. So we just try to stick together and have each other’s backs no matter what. It’s a very unique spot to be in on a football team, so it is really good to be close. We try to keep it light, have fun and not take ourselves too seriously.
KAHLER: We recently published a series about kickers that revealed the mentality of the kicker. Take us inside your head before a kick. Is there a certain mantra that you repeat to yourself?
GOSTKOWSKI: Yeah, I definitely have some routines, they kind of change throughout the years but I try to do the same thing every time and be confident when I go out there. There is definitely a mindset to kicking in the NFL. At the start of my career, I would go out there and say to myself, You can’t miss this kick. And now I am at the stage in my career where I feel like I know I am going to make the kicks. It’s not an overconfidence, but you have to have confidence when you are out there that you are going to do your job. Any kind of second guessing or doubt can be the difference between a made or missed kick. I just try to calm myself down and not think too much. I try to play stupid, I sing a song in my head when I go out there. I am basically just trying to be a robot. I don’t let any situation or outside environmental factor affect the way that I do things. I’ll watch a highlight tape of my kicks and l’ll play a song that I like the night before the game and then I’ll sing that song in my head to visually get myself ready and have positive thoughts.
KAHLER: You were the starting pitcher on the University of Memphis baseball team. Are there any similarities between pitching and kicking, in terms of the individualistic role and the mentality behind it?
GOSTKOWSKI: There definitely are similarities. You’re out there by yourself, you either make the kick or you don’t. You either are getting outs or you give up runs. When you are out there on the mound and or on the field the ball is in your hand, you control the outcome and everyone is looking at you while the play is going on. If you are a reliever you get one inning per game or if you are a starter you get one game per week. There is a lot of buildup for a little bit of work compared to the guys who play every down or play every day in baseball. As a mental thing, they are very similar. I felt the same way when I pitched and I had a bad game or a bad outing. It would wear on me for awhile and I had to learn to not let that eat me up inside, so I could go out there and do well the next time I played. And it’s the same way with kicking. You can’t get so down on yourself that one miss leads to two, and two leads to three and then you’re out of the NFL because you couldn’t get over missing one kick. It’s something you have to work at and you have to have a decent amount of mental toughness to ignore the noise and move on from a bad game or a bad kick to focus on the 90 percent of the kicks that you do make.
KAHLER: Who is your favorite major league team today?
GOSTKOWSKI: I follow all sports, and it’s been hard not to be a Red Sox fan, living in Boston for a long time. But I have also been a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals for a while. I root for both of those teams. My favorite pitcher of all time was Pedro Martinez. I loved watching him. I used to watch Roy Halladay, when he was with the Blue Jays. One of my buddies, Matt Cain, pitches for the Giants, so I have a lot of guys that I like to watch.
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