FOXBOROUGH — Nick Folk was coming off a miserable 0-for-3 performance against the Patriots in a prime-time matchup in 2017 when the pain in his left knee became too much, forcing the Buccaneers to place him on injured reserve.
Folk was eventually released and would go more than two calendar years without kicking in an NFL game when, coincidentally enough, the Patriots came calling in late October 2019.
Since then, Folk has been on a remarkable run of consistency, connecting on 66 of 73 field goals. He hit his final 26 attempts in 2020 and this season leads the NFL with 26 field goals on 28 attempts.
Not bad production from a 37-year-old, 14-year veteran who couldn’t find work in 2018 and acknowledged he and his wife had discussed a timeline for when he might call it quits. He kept busy during his forced sabbatical.
“I just trained. I have a gym in my garage. I went to the local high school [near Dallas], and I kicked probably two times a week, depending on the time of the year and stuff, and I was just kind of hoping to get a call,” Folk said. “Then I was actually finishing my MBA at that time as well. I finished that in August or so of ‘19, and then I actually played in that AAF league. I just wanted to play to kind of get my name back out there, show that I was healthy, I was kicking well. Then luckily enough, the Patriots called.”
The luck was mutual.
Folk’s accuracy on the field coupled with his leadership and professionalism in the locker room has made him a favorite among his teammates and the staff.
“He’s helpful and very, very knowledgeable. I’ve learned a lot from Nick Folk. I’ll say that. I’ve learned a lot,” said coach Bill Belichick. “He’s really taught me a lot of little things that, honestly, I hadn’t really thought that much about, and once he pointed them out, I was kind of disappointed in myself that I didn’t put a little more importance on it earlier. Yeah, he’s really good.”
Folk and Belichick talk often and Folk relishes the chats.
“They’re great. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here — personally, football-wise — and I think [Belichick] is just like a big sponge,” said Folk. “He likes to learn everything and learn different players and how they think and how they operate. So we’ve talked about field conditions, wind conditions, weather, everything. All kinds of stuff. It’s kind of fun to bounce ideas off of another set of eyes, and Bill has been doing it for such a long time. He’s seen plenty of great kickers come through here and throughout his entire career.
“So, any time you can kind of garner a little bit of knowledge on that side is always a good thing. Those are good conversations when we get to have them. I cherish those because you never know when those will stop. It’s been a lot of fun to learn from one of the best in the business.”
Folk has a chance to become the fourth Patriot to lead the league in field goals: Tony Franklin in 1986; Adam Vinatieri in 2004; and Stephen Gostkowski in 2008, ‘13, and ‘14. That’d be a nice feather in his cap, but it doesn’t feel like Folk is concerned with individual accomplishments.
“It’s been a great time up here. I’ve met a lot of great people, worked with a lot of great professionals, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity,” he said. “I just kind of take it day by day, kick by kick, and try to keep it going one at a time. I try to come in every day, do my part, do what I have to do to get ready to play every Sunday, Thursday, Monday, whatever it is, help the team wherever I can, help our coaches wherever I can. My biggest thing I’ve always said my entire career is I want to win, so whatever we have to do to win, I’m all in.”
Davis added to injury report
The Patriots added special teams ace Cody Davis to the injury report Saturday with an illness and he is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Titans … For the second straight game, the Patriots did not elevate any players from the practice squad by Saturday’s deadline … New England is looking to post back-to-back shutouts for the first time since December 1982, when it beat Miami, 3-0, and Seattle, 16-0 … The defense needs two sacks to reach 30 in a season for the 20th time under Belichick … J.C. Jackson has the most interceptions (23) since he entered the NFL as a free agent in 2018 … Mac Jones’s seven wins are the most for a Patriots rookie quarterback, topping the six Jim Plunkett collected in 1971.
Jim McBride can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.