The Patriots were coming to a crossroads at kicker in the 2019 season. With long-time veteran Stephen Gostkowski landing on Injured Reserve, the team juggled a trio of journeymen kickers over the month of October. Few could've predicted that one of them would suddenly emerge as the team's kicker of the future.
First, it was Mike Nugent, a 15-year veteran who played four games and made 5-of-8 kicks before being released following two misses against the Browns. Next up was 11-year veteran Nick Folk, who was out of the NFL in 2018 and had most recently kicked in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football, but after three games he was released following an appendectomy, giving way to Kai Forbath who filled in during a loss to the Texans.
At that moment it looked like the Patriots would spend the foreseeable future searching for answers at kicker and when Folk was resigned after his recovery one week later and retained for the rest of 2019, it was the start of what would be a record-setting run.
Three seasons later, Folk has been the model of consistency for the Patriots and provided many critical points in tight contests. This week he picked up this fourth AFC Special Teams Player of the Week since joining the Pats after going 5-of-5 on field goals and adding an extra point in a win over the Jets in which he accounted for 16 of the team's 22 points.
"I just try to do my part," said Folk following the win over the Jets. "I had a great operation with Jake [Bailey] and Joe [Cardona]. The line blocked well. Like I say all the time, we get to put a cherry on top and put it through the uprights. So, just happy to have a good day."
Over the last three-plus seasons, Folk has posted double-digit points 14 times and the Patriots are 12-2 in those games. After having excellent consistency over 20 years from Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski, Folk has added his name to the legacy of great Patriots kickers. As the team has transitioned in recent seasons it's hard to imagine where they'd be without Folk.
"Nick's really good. He's really, probably of all the kickers, probably the smartest," said head coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday. "They were all smart, but I mean really just professional, totally understanding everything about kicking. Adam and Stephen are probably a little more talented but just in terms of fundamentals, the execution and the consistency, Nick's really good. I mean Adam – you're talking about a Hall of Fame kicker, all three of those guys could be. I mean they're pretty good. We've been very fortunate. Matt Stover in Cleveland, which he looked pretty good too until [Justin] Tucker came along. But yeah, that's a key position, and Nick's been incredibly consistent."
Clearly most impressive has been Folk's consistency, setting a league record this season with his 64th-straight field goal from inside of 50 yards, a streak that came to the end against the Browns. The last time Folk missed inside of 50 was the 2020 fan-less season opener.
"You kind of start to take it for granted, and then you realize how difficult it was," said Belichick last month following the win over the Lions. "Nick makes it look so easy. Honestly, it's kind of what it's like in practice. We've got some wind out there, some crazy wind, and the ball goes in between the uprights all the time. Yeah, I mean, I can't say enough about Nick Folk. He is so professional, so consistent, so dependable. When you stop and think about how hard that job is over the amount of time we're talking about, it's really, really impressive."
Folk will turn 38 on November 5 but has shown no signs of slowing down in 2022. Still under contract for the 2023 season as well, he should continue to add to his impressive late-career resurgence as the Patriots depend on him for critical points.