Stephen Gostkowski and the Patriots have fared well with the new kickoff rule. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)
FOXBORO — It’s been three weeks of regular season games with the new kickoff rules where touchbacks go out to the 25-yard line, not the 20-yard line, and it’s apparent it’s changed the Patriots’ approach.
In the first three games of last season, Stephen Gostkowski had 18 touchbacks in 24 attempts (75 percent). In the first three games this season, he has 12 touchbacks in 18 attempts (66 percent). While it’s only a nine percent difference, it’s worth noting the Patriots have been involved in two blowout games (up 31-3 over Miami and beat Houston 27-0), so the numbers might have been even more different if those games were more competitive.
“It’s still three weeks in, it’s hard to get a feel for it. I just do what I am told,” Gostkowski said. “There are some times where I don’t kick a touchback and I am trying to. There are times when I try and kick a touchback and I don’t. It’s not all as calculated as people may think. To give five free extra yards without making them earn it, we have a lot of guys that work too hard to just give away that kind of field position. We’re happy with the start we’ve had with that unit. We have to continue to keep making plays. We’re excited we can help the team any way we can.”
When Gostkowski doesn’t blast a kick as far as he can deep into the end zone, it seems he has opted for a pop-up type kick trying to have the returner catch it inside the 10-yard line on the right side of the field, which allows the coverage team to get down the field in a hurry to hopefully stop him before he gets to the 20-yard line.
“It’s always a mystery, man,” Gostkowski said. “We’re a week-to-week team. I just do what the coaches tell me to do. I try and it do it my best.”
Gostkowski said there hasn’t been much adjustment to his preparation with the increased number of pop-up kicks as it isn’t a dramatic change.
“You still have to kick it 65 yards, it’s not like I am swinging a pitching wedge,” he said. “You have to be a little more precise with what you’re doing where in the past few years you might just kick it as far as you can. There’s a little adjustment, but we’re not re-inventing the wheel here.”
So while it’s just been three games, the Patriots opponents following kickoffs have had their average starting point be the 21-yard line, including two fumbles, so Gostkowski and the special teams unit have done its job.
“I’d say we’ve fared pretty well so far, but we have a lot work to keep going,” Gostkowski said. “Those guys are good covering kicks, I just have to put them in a position to make plays.”