Vikings’ Missed Field Goal Makes You Appreciate Stephen Gostkowski

The Patriots won't lose a playoff game because their kicker can't hit a chip shot.

At the time, it was a puzzling move when the New England Patriots opted to make Stephen Gostkowski the highest-paid kicker in football history last offseason. Though Bill Belichick seldom pays players the top rate when they reach free agency, he curiously decided to extend himself in order to retain Gostkowski.

But after watching an atrocious season for kickers across the league, it’s now easy to see why.

The latest and perhaps worst kicker meltdown of the year happened Sunday afternoon, when Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard chip shot that would’ve awarded the Vikings their first playoff victory in six years. He hooked the kick wide left and Minnesota was sent packing.

Given the sluggish way the Patriots ended the regular-season, it’s not a guarantee they’ll embark on another Super Bowl run this January. But one thing is for certain: They won’t lose a playoff game because their kicker can’t hit an easy shot.

Gostkowski is the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer and has led the league in field goals made in two of the last three seasons. He’s converted more than 90 percent of his field goal attempts in three straight years as well.

The way the Patriots handled the Gostkowski negotiations was in stark contrast to the way they approached Adam Vinatieri when he reached free agency nine years ago. Though Vinatieri’s right foot secured three Super Bowl wins for the Patriots, Belichick didn’t think he was worth a multi-year contract. Vintatieri wound up signing with the rival Indianapolis Colts.

But this season, circumstances have changed for kickers across the league. The NFL decided to move the extra point back 13 yards, meaning the PAT is now kicked from 33 yards out. Given this increased distance, the Patriots saw value in locking up a kicker who’s drilled more than 87 percent of his field goal attempts over the years and only shanked one extra point. (Gostkowski owns the record for consecutive extra points.)

Gostkowski was one of the few kickers in the league this season who didn’t struggle with the new extra point distance. The PAT rate dropped to 94.2 percent in 2015, which is the lowest since 1979. Prior to this season, the extra point rate had been above 95 percent every year since 1989.

The truth is, Gostkowski rarely misses crucial kicks—no matter the distance. The biggest field goal he hit this season was a game-winner against the New York Giants, which he improbably nailed from 54 yards out.

Gostkowski is a weapon for the Patriots, not a weak link. As the Vikings can attest, that can’t be overlooked at this time of year.