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Gostkowski kicks his way into regular season

The Patriots announced yesterday that the kicking competition between Martin Gramatica and rookie Stephen Gostkowski had officially ended with Gostkowski the victor.

Gostkowski, 22, was the first kicker taken in the draft, a fourth-round draft pick chosen 118th overall. The 6-1, 210-pounder bettered his own field goal percentage every year during his career at Memphis. He hit 70 of 92 field goals and had a solid senior year, finishing 22 of 25 to graduate as the 13th-leading scorer in NCAA history.

Asked if he felt like the decision meant he had won the job, Gostkowski replied, "I don't look at it that way. I've just got to work harder to prove myself even more.

"It kind of makes you work harder. Just because, you know, they've probably got four guys waiting on speed-dial for me to slip up, so I've got to stay on my toes."

Some followers may have been caught off guard by yesterday's announcement, but punter Josh Miller, who doubles as the holder, feels the timing of the decision was pretty good.

"Let him go into it, and by the time the season starts he'll have three games by himself, so it will feel like his fourth game - so I like that," said Miller. "That will be good for him mentally if he has some good success and gets into the routine of what the season's like."

The competition wasn't the only pressure on the kickers, according to Miller.

"We're probably the only ones in the locker room where preseason is pretty much like the season. Snap, hold, kick and that's about it," he said.

Gostkowski seems to be trying to keep things in perspective. After all, he still hasn't kicked in a pressure situation, or even a regular season game.

"Kicking's kicking. Pressure's pressure. You beat other guys just to get drafted," said Gostkowski.

In truth, both kickers performed pretty well during the competition; each consistently made field goals in training camp practices, and neither of them missed a kick in the first two preseason games.

Gostkowski made all four field goal attempts – from 34, 37, 33 and 37 yards – and is also 4-for-4 on extra point attempts.

Gramatica didn't kick in the second game against the Cardinals, but made the most of his opportunities, converting both of his field goal attempts in the Falcons game – one from 26 yards and one from 30.

Perhaps the deciding factor was Gostkowski's leg. Plainly, it's bigger, stronger and younger than Gramatica's.

More convincing is the distance Gostkowski gets on kickoffs. His tend to be long and lofty, but Gramatica's kickoffs just didn't have the same height and consistent length.

Of the Patriots 13 preseason kickoffs, only three came from the foot of Gramatica. His average distance on those three is 68 yards. Gostkowski's had 10 kickoffs, seven of which went farther than that. Although a 53-yarder brings his average distance down to 68 yards as well, Gostkowski was kicking after 15-yard penalty, so he had less room to work with. His longest was a booming 77-yarder, which landed in the back of the end zone during the Falcons game. Gostkowski has put six in the end zone, while Gramatica has only one.

Nick-named 'Automatica,' Gramatica is off the Patriots roster now, but Miller predicted good things for him.

"Both of them are good kickers," affirmed Miller. "Martin's going to be in the league – he's going to get picked up I'm sure. He had a good camp."

Miller made a prediction about Gostkowski as well, saying "Hopefully he'll come up here like (closing pitcher Jonathan) Papelbon. He's a closer. He's got a live, live leg, as [Papelbon] has a live, live arm. Hopefully he'll have the same results."

Gramatica, 30, signed with the Patriots in April after taking a break from the game in 2005 with an abdominal injury - it contributed to a stained 2004 season as well. But before that, he won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in 2002 and earned himself a trip to Hawaii for the 2000 Pro Bowl. He's got six NFL seasons under his belt, playing for Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. Currently, he's the most accurate kicker in postseason history, making 11 of his 12 attempts to land him at 91.7 percent accuracy.

Notes:

Though he's won the job, Gostkowski still isn't done getting the rookie treatment. During the media barrage, someone threw a white ball of athletic tape across the locker room, which hit the rookie square in the face. The good news: he hardly flinched and handled the added pressure of the press' chuckles in stride. … Apparently even Tom Brady isn't beyond getting messed with. He was hit with a ball of tape during his locker room press conference as well. … Wide receiver Erik Davis was released yesterday along with Gramatica. Davis played in New England's first two preseason games this season and caught one pass for 15 yards. … Chad Jackson, Freddie Roach, Tedy Bruschi, Le Kevin Smith, Dan Klecko, Marquise Hill, Jarvis Green and Chad Brown all missed practice again today. David Thomas and Gus Scott also missed practice today.

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