After his perfect three-field-goal performance against Arizona, including the eventual game-winner from 32 yards out, placekicker Stephen Gostkowski was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 1. This marks Gostkowski's fourth such honor in his 11-year career.
Gostkowski also drilled kicks from 47 and 53 yards to help New England claim a 23-21 road victory over the Cardinals.
"It's always nice to get off to a good start, but one game is one game, you know," the reliably self-effacing kicker observed. "Good or bad, you have to turn the page. There's no time in the NFL, especially as a specialist, to pat yourself on the back. It's a week-to-week, game-to-game, kick-to-kick kind of job. So, I'm not one to take a victory lap or anything. I enjoyed the win."
While Gostkowski is normally reluctant to talk about himself and his individual accomplishments, the other two members of his kicking triumvirate, long snapper Joe Cardona and punter/holder Ryan Allen, are eager to do so.
"Steve deserves it," Cardona asserted. "He works really hard perfecting his craft, and his focus is… really an example I try to follow as well. He's really good at what he does."
"It just goes to show," remarked Allen, "during his career, to see how consistent he is and the way he approaches situations in a game… just watching how he preps for that, there's a reason why he's really consistent. I mean, his focus is there and he's trying to do the same thing every time. He's narrowed it down and when something doesn't look right, it's so minute, you can't even really pick it out sometimes. That's him being a professional at what he does. He understands his mechanics and the situations and the mental game. He's figured it out, obviously, because he's got the track record for it."
Psychology certainly plays a role in among specialists in the NFL. Allen dubbed Gostkowski's approach to his job as professionalism, but it could easily be confused with perfectionism.
"Yeah, to a point," Allen agreed. "Our positions, everyone's trying to strive for that, but it's either a good or a bad [result], in our sense, and we only get a few plays [per game] to display that."
"It's a very binary position," added Cardona. "There's not a lot of ways it can go. Perfectionism and professionalism are ways you have to think and approach your position, but you also have to be ready to perform. It's finding that mental balance that's really important to our positions. That's really what's going to help us perform, is the way we approach things mentally."
Patriots Football Weekly's Andy Hart shares his players to watch during the Patriots home opener against the Dolphins.
Given how few chances the specialists get in an average game, it could be argued that they are the most scrutinized of players on the roster, relative to their appearances on the field. It is a comfort, of sorts, to each individual in the trio to be able to share that experience with the other two.
As we saw at the very end of the Cardinals game, Arizona's imperfect long snap on the last-second field goal attempt to win contributed to kicker Chandler Catanzaro's wide-left miss. So, while all three members of the placekicking unit are trying to be individual perfectionists, they are somewhat at the mercy of the other two holding up their end of the bargain.
"We work for [Gostkowski] on that specific play, the field goal unit," Allen explained. "We have to be perfect so he can do his job at an efficient rate. When things aren't right and the ball's outside [his selected spot] and he's got to move his foot at the last second and still try to hit a ball, you know, 55 yards, straight… the margin for error grows exponentially.
"We're human. There's going to be things a little bit off, but if you can – it's like the 'aim small, miss small' [concept] – We can help one another in that, most of the time and get it down to where he's not noticing that. He's actually very good sometimes, if things aren't perfect, he stays in his path."
"He makes us look good," Cardona smiled.
"Yeah," Allen continued, "if the snaps a little low or I double-clutch it where it's not a complete rope and put down, he's very good at not letting that bug him most of the time."
In the case of Gostkowski, Allen, and Cardona, who've worked together as a group the past season-plus, it's even more helpful that all three get along so well off the field.
"Knowing we all support each other and obviously want to do well for the team, but we want to do well for each other, too. That motivates us a lot," Cardona acknowledged. "We can't ask for a better chemistry or relationship than what we have."
"It makes a huge difference," Gostkowski agreed. "I've been fortunate enough to have a lot of really good snappers and holders and, I've said this before, I'd put Ryan up there at the top. I think he's the best holder in the NFL. To have faith and confidence in someone in front of you just helps you attack the ball a lot better."
According to media reports, wide receiver Julian Edelman's trip to the Desert Southwest was a costly one. The NFL has fined him $26,000 for hitting a defenseless Cardinals player. It's unclear exactly which play drew the league's attention, as Edelman wasn't flagged during the contest.
He spoke to reporters briefly before practice Thursday, but that was prior to the news of his fine had leaked. Edelman declared he's looking forward to the home opener against Miami, the start of a three-game home stand for the Patriots.
"It feels good. It's home. Anytime you get to play around your own fans and feel the excitement for you instead of against you, it's a fun feeling… It's going to be good."
Solder to start?
Starting left tackle Nate Solder (hamstring) was among a trio of high-profile Patriots who didn't travel with the team to Arizona last weekend due to health issues. Veteran Cam Fleming took his place on the o-line.
"I thought those guys did well," Solder said of the five-man unit as a whole versus the Cardinals, "but we can't be satisfied with anything we did. We have to keep moving forward and we've got a really tough one this week that we need to be prepared for."
Solder was injured in the preseason finale against the New York Giants. He was limited in every practice last week and the two so far this week. Thursday, the veteran was asked directly today for his thoughts about playing this Sunday against Miami.
"I'm really excited. It's going to be awesome," he smiled. "It's going to be a tough opponent. I'm excited to get the opportunity to play."
Sounded very much like a declaration that he'll be back on the field for New England's home opener against the Dolphins.
Linebacker/co-captain Dont'a Hightower was unable to practice for the second straight day due to his right knee injury. Normally, when a player misses more than one practice in a week, his chances of playing in that week's game are jeopardizing.
Meanwhile, an 11th player was added to New England's injury report. CB Eric Rowe, in just his second week with the Patriots after being traded from Philadelphia, suffered an ankle injury during Thursday's session.
There's been yet another alteration to the practice squad this week. Rookie offensive lineman Clay DeBord has been released and, according to media reports, replaced by another o-lineman. Former BC guard Ian Silberman would become the second former San Francisco 49er to join the Patriots practice squad this week (wide receiver DeAndrew White was inked yesterday).
Former Patriots Canton-bound?
Of the 94 finalists announced this week as candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, eight are former Patriots. Four of them are already members of the Patriots Hall of Fame: quarterback Drew Bledsoe, linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest, and cornerback Ty Law. The half are safety Rodney Harrison, quarterback Doug Flutie, defensive lineman Fred Smerlas, and wide receiver Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson.
Harrison won two Super Bowls with New England after a long career as a San Diego Charger. He now analyzes NFL football for NBC on Sunday nights. Flutie, of course, spent the majority of his professional career playing throughout the Canadian Football League, but had two memorable stints with New England. In fact, he retired from the game here at Gillette Stadium during the 2006 offseason.
Smerlas, a Bay State native and Boston College alumnus, is best known as a Buffalo Bill, but came home to play for the Patriots from 1991-92. And in 2011, Johnson played on New England's Super Bowl XLVI squad during his lone season in Foxborough.
Another Hall of Fame candidate with a Patriots connection is head coach Dan Reeves, who led the Denver Broncos, New York Giants, and Atlanta Falcons after an eight-year career as a running back for the Dallas Cowboys. Reeves' nephew, David Andrews, is New England's starting center.
"I'm happy for him," Andrews said of his uncle. "I know he's been on that list before. If it was my choice, he would be in there. I think he was a great coach and was able to learn a lot from him growing up and looking up to him. I still do today."
The list will eventually be whittled down to 15, and from there, as many as eight individuals will be selected for induction next summer. The 2017 class will be unveiled during Super Bowl Week in Houston in February.