Stephen Gostkowski has been one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL this season. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
DENVER — On Wednesday, Bill Belichick discounted the impact that the mile-high altitude would have on his players Sunday night at Sports Authority Field.
But the Patriots coach is not discounting the impact it could have on the game itself.
Without getting into all the physics made very famous through the ideal gas law talk through Deflategate, in higher altitude there’s less pressure and less resistance to a ball filled with air. Ergo, the ball travels farther with the same amount of force behind it.
On Dec. 8, 2013, Broncos kicker Matt Prater set the new NFL record for longest field goal when he converted from 64 yards just before halftime against the Titans. There were those who thought there should be an asterisk next to it in the record books since it was converted a mile above sea level at Sports Authority Field. Prater was suspended to start the 2014 season and the Broncos acquired their current kicker Brandon McManus in a trade with the Giants.
Prater was the most accurate kicker in Broncos kicker at the time of his release. After converting just 9-of-13 in his first year, McManus has converted 20-of-21 this year, including from 57 and 56 yards in the season opener against Baltimore at Sports Authority. McManus has converted five times from 50 or longer this year. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski is 4-for-5 from at least 50 yards out.
Given the year Gostkowski has had and the quality of the Denver defense, there would be reason to think Sunday’s titanic tilt could come down to Gostkowski’s leg as it did against the Giants on Nov. 15 at MetLife Stadium. Against the Jets just before the half at Gillette on Oct. 25, Bill Belichick turned down the chance to try a 64-yard field goal and decided to let Tom Brady run a play. Brady was sacked and the half ended.
But there’s much more than just the altitude that could impact Bill Belichick’s decision-making this time in higher altitude. The forecast is calling for steady snow showers with a game-time temperature of 23 degrees and wind chill of 17.
“As far as the field goals and all that, we evaluate that every game at game time so there’s really no way to know what that [field goal] range is going to be,” Belichick said, hedging per normal on any forecast. “I mean we can anticipate it being a little bit longer out there, but that may vary depending on what direction we’re going and that could vary on the temperature and the wind.
“Those two things that affect the distance of the ball. We kind of make that decision at game time after we go through pre-game warmups and look at the conditions and maybe try to gauge if the conditions are going to change. Sometimes you get gusting winds and depending on whether it’s gusting or not that could affect your distance there by somewhat of a significant amount of yardage. Those are all really game-time decisions based on pre-game warmups and field conditions. We reevaluate those possibly in the game if the conditions are extreme but more so at halftime and talk about if there’s anything changed from the second half to the first half relative to our strategy or relating to that type of thing.”