HOUSTON — One streak ended for Stephen Gostkowski Sunday, but another may just have begun. It’s a trade he won’t mind making.
Gostkowski saw his run of 21 consecutive field goals made snapped in the second quarter, when his bid for a career-best 55-yarder sailed wide right. But the eighth-year placekicker more than made up for that miss in the fourth quarter, when he connected on a pair of 53-yarders. The first tied the game with the Texans. The second, with 3:12 left, gave the Patriots a 34-31 victory at Reliant Stadium.
It marks the second straight week that Gostkowski has kicked the winning field goal. His 31-yarder in overtime beat the Broncos the week before. It also gives him three game-winning kicks on the season, and five for his career.
“To be able to do it in the fourth quarter, and to be able to do it when the team needed me to tie it and to put us ahead, it definitely makes it feel a little bit special after the fact,” Gostkowski said. “It’s nice to have a big factor in the game. There’s been plenty of games where the offense just dominates people, or the defense does. It’s the tight games when you need special teams the most.”
Gostkowski had grown leery of discussing his streak of consecutive field goals made — which ended two kicks short of the franchise record, held by Adam Vinatieri — for fear of jinxing himself. The 55-yard attempt in the second quarter was his longest of the season, and became just his second miss. He pulled a 43-yard try in Week 2 against the Jets.
Even though it would have been a career long, Patriots coaches were confident in sending Gostkowski out there because he was making kicks of that distance before the game, and because the warmer weather in Houston (game-time temperature: 64 degrees) allowed for the ball to travel farther. The odds of a 55-yard December attempt at Gillette Stadium would be unlikely.
Gostkowski noted that the ball seemed to be carrying better toward the south end zone, the direction in which the Patriots conveniently were heading on offense during the fourth quarter. The challenge, both he and holder Ryan Allen said, was finding enough grass to comfortably kick from, since the turf was littered with divots and was chewed up. Not the best conditions for players who need solid footing, but something Patriots specialists see regularly.
“We have grass that gets torn up in practice, so we deal with that on a daily basis,” Gostkowski said. “It’s not like it’s anything that’s new.”
According to Allen, the two fourth-quarter kicks came from nearly the identical spot on the field. “Within a yard,” he said.
Footing was good. So were both kicks, true with a few yards to spare. The first came with 7:16 left, and tied the game at 31. After the Patriots’ defense forced a pivotal three-and-out, Gostkowski hit again from 53. This one held up as the decisive points.
“We have confidence in Stephen,” said coach Bill Belichick, who described Gostkowski’s 55-yard try as a bad coaching decision on his part. “He’s come through all year for us.”
The winning field goal came when the Patriots’ drive stalled at the Houston 35. Faced with fourth and 2, Belichick didn’t hesitate in sending the field goal unit on, instead of keeping the offense on the field and trying to convert the first down.
“Those points gave us the lead, so I don’t think you want to pass up an opportunity to take the lead in a tight game like that,” Belichick said. “Steve made it look like a good decision.”
Short memories also help. Gostkowski said his second-quarter miss had no impact on his fourth-quarter makes. He’s always been committed to his meticulous process, each kick an opportunity to make a difference, no matter the situation.
“I’m just going out there trying to make the kick,” Gostkowski said. “That’s what I did on the first one: went out there trying to make it. Missed it by a little bit, but I regrouped and told myself that I’ve made so many more kicks than I’ve missed in this league, and just nailed the next one.
“If you take it one kick at a time, you’re going to screw up here and there, but don’t let the situation get too big, and worry about what you’ve got to do to make the kick. I feel like if I take that approach, I’m going to be successful.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.