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The Patriots dynasty and the greatest display of clutch kicking in NFL history

Posted Sep 20, 2012

New England's 20-18 loss to Arizona Sunday marked the end of the greatest display of clutch kicking in NFL history.

New England's 20-18 loss to Arizona Sunday was not a sign of the apocalypse. It only felt that way.

It marked the end of the "greatest display of clutch kicking in NFL history," writes "Captain Comeback" Scott Kacsmar, the national authority on comebacks, game-winning drives and, yes, missed opportunities, too.

He chronicles all NFL comeback data for Cold, Hard Football Facts.com as well as ProFootballReference.com.

Stephen Gostkowski's 42-yard kick at the end of regulation was hooked wide left – after a day in which he was otherwise brilliant (4 for 4 FGs, including one from 53).

The game marked the first time in 13 years – since Dec. 26, 1999, to be exact – that the Patriots lost a game because their kicker whiffed on a field goal.

Adam Vinatieri was only a future legend back then, two years before he booted himself and the Patriots into the annals of NFL history, while earning a rep as the greatest clutch kicker of all time.

But he missed not one but two clutch field goals back on that late-December day: a 33-yard attempt with 2 seconds left in regulation and another 44-yard effort in overtime.

The Patriots lost 13-10 to Doug Flutie and the Buffalo Bills. That was the last time the weight of a Patriots loss fell on the shoulders of their kicker.

(For those interested in the way karmic history weaves together, that game was Flutie's last start before Wade Phillips benched the local hero for the playoffs, leading to the loss to the Titans known as the Music City Miracle.)

Yes, it was a long time ago: Pete Carroll was still New England's coach. The future dynasty was not even in the wildest dreams of Patriots fans. Tom Brady was getting ready to lead Michigan into the Orange Bowl against Alabama.

Put another way: Sunday's game against Arizona marked the first time in Tom Brady's career that he lost a game because of a botched field-goal attempt.

Few quarterbacks are so blessed with such great kicking fortunes. Here is Captain Comeback's list of games lost by quarterbacks because kickers botched the game in the end.

Peyton Manning – 6
Drew Brees – 6
Aaron Rodgers – 3
Joe Flacco – 2
Tom Brady – 1


The first-in-13-years miss came with a bit of karmic retribution, too. At just about the time Gostkowski was missing that kick, old friend Adam Vinatieri was booting a 53-yard game winner for the Indianapolis Colts.

But don't think Gostkowski is a slacker in the clutch department, even compared with the guy who built his rep kicking the Patriots to famous victories in the playoffs and in Super Bowls.

Gostkowski has not had the chance to attempt clutch kicks on such grand stages. But he's actually kicked successfully in clutch situations at a higher percentage and from longer distances than even the great Vinatieri, reports Captain Comeback.

Clutch kicks for the Patriots
Vinatieri – 18 of 20 (90%)
Gostkowski – 11 of 12 (91.7%)

Average distance of clutch kicks
Vinatieri – 34.5 yards
Gostkowski – 36.3 yards

Fast forward to Sunday night's big showdown at Baltimore.

Joe Flacco and the Ravens certainly know the pain Brady and the Patriots felt on Sunday. Heck, they experienced it on a much bigger stage.

Remember, Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff – now with Washington – missed a 32-yard field goal at the end of regulation last year that would have tied the AFC title game at 23-23.

The miss was gruesome enough for the Ravens to jettison the veteran kicker. That chore now falls on the shoulders of rookie Justin Tucker, who's a perfect 6-for-6 on field goals already this season.

Does he have the guts to come through with that critical kick with the game on the line? Could karma try to make up for lost time and force the Patriots to blow two games in a row on missed field goals – after 13 years without such a loss?

There's a good chance we'll find out when these two evenly matched teams take the field for prime time football.