Stephen Gostkowski has struggled this season. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Stephen Gostkowski is in a slump.
The veteran kicker, who has been so dependable over such an extended period of time for New England, has missed three field-goal attempts and a pair of extra-points this season. Despite the fact that he’s been one of the most accurate field goal kickers in the league over the last decade, the misses this season, combined with a botched extra-point in last year’s AFC title game, have sparked some concern among New Englanders.
“I stink right now,” Gostkowski told reporters after Sunday’s win over the Steelers, a game where he missed an extra-point attempt. “That’s just the bottom line.”
For what it’s worth, Bill Belichick doesn’t sound like a guy who is ready to move on from his kicker.
“Nobody works harder than Steve. Steve’s a very talented player. He’s mentally tough,” Belichick said after the game. “We’ll work through it. [Pittsburgh] is a tough place to kick. I’m not making any excuses, but the kicker on the other side of the field had trouble too. But we have to have to make them.”
The 32-year-old Gostkowski has been a big part of New England’s success over the last decade. The former college baseball pitcher is a two-time All-Pro who is the third-most accurate kicker in the recent NFL history. Of course, there’s a flip side to that sort of consistency, as even the slightest bump will raise eyebrows.
The bottom line? Because of his past, Gostkowski is held to a higher standard than most kickers. This is a guy who has dealt with pressure since he first arrived in Foxboro and was anointed as the successor to You Know Who. (A guy who had struggles of his own, for what it’s worth.) He’s self-aware enough to understand the reality of the situation.
So what to do? Setting aside the obvious financial ramifications of cutting one of the highest-paid kickers in the game, history says there’s something to be said for letting the situation play out. There are plenty of kickers who have hit a slump a few years into their career, figured out their problems, and managed to come back strong. Here are five examples of veteran kickers who have stumbled but rebounded:
Justin Tucker: After connecting at 85 percent or better over his first three years in the NFL — good enough to land him a spot as a first-team All-Pro in 2013 — Tucker hit a divot and missed seven field-goal attempts in 2015. (To be fair, six of those missed were from 50 yards or more.) To this point, he’s been able to bounce back and hit on all 18 of his field-goal attempts to open 2016.
Steven Hauschka: The Bay State native had a three-year run that was as good as any kicker in the recent history of the game, hitting on 89 percent of his field-goal attempts for the Seahawks. Then, he suffered through a rough 2014, missing six field-goal attempts and finishing at 83 percent for the year. He’s managed to bounce back; in the year-plus since his forgettable 2014, he’s missed just four field goals.
Ryan Longwell: In his fifth year in the league (2001), after connecting at at 85 percent success rate on his field goals, he was miserable, going 20-for-31 (65 percent) for Green Bay. But in eight of the next nine seasons, he was at 83 percent or better for the Packers and Vikings, including two seasons where he was better than 90 percent.
Matt Stover: Stover, who kicked for Belichick in Cleveland in the early 1990s, carved out a niche as one of the more dependable kickers in the league over a 19-year career. In 1998, in his eighth year in the league, he missed a career-high seven field goals for the Ravens. Two years later, at the age of 32 he was a first-team All-Pro and made a trip to the Pro Bowl after going 35-for-39 for 90 percent from the field.
Jason Hansen: Hansen rode a roller coaster over the course of his 21-year career career, all with the Lions. In 1994, he missed nine field-goal attempts with Detroit, but three years later, he was a second-team All-Pro in 1997 after he connected on 90 percent of his field-goal chances. He also reached the Pro Bowl in 1997 and 1998.