But for another rabbit-from-a-hat fourth-quarter drive by the Patriots, the Stephen Gostkowski problem would have risen to crisis levels. The kicker’s miss on a field goal attempt from 39 yards at the end of the first half — 3 lost points that loomed large when New England trailed the Jets, 17-16, until the final minutes of the game — continued a pattern in which once-automatic kicks now prompt a growing specter of doubt.
Gostkowski has missed two field goal attempts from 30-39 yards this year — one more than he missed the previous three seasons combined. When one factors in his three extra-point misses from 32 yards, his five missed kicks of 30-39 yards represent as many stumbles from that distance as he’d endured in the previous six combined regular seasons.
Of course, Gostkowski’s rash of errant kicks comes at a time when missed extra points have become a weekly story line. The failures of kickers have achieved such prominence that they raise curiosity about whether Charlie Brown and Lucy have invaded special teams units across the game.
Clearly, Gostkowski’s struggles represent a departure from his career norms. But it is worth asking: Are they likewise a departure from what’s happening across the league?
In short, the answer is yes. Gostkowski’s diminished effectiveness of 30-39 yards this year stands in contrast to a league that has gotten considerably better at kicks of that distance over the last two years, following the move of the line of scrimmage on extra points from the 2-yard line to the 15 prior to the 2015 season.
There has been a reduced success rate on extra points this year, but the dropoff is minimal. A year ago, kickers made 94.2 percent of PATS; this year, that rate is down to 93.7 percent, meaning that every 200 extra point attempts have resulted in one additional miss this year.
Gostkowski singlehandedly accounts for most of the leaguewide decline from 94.2 percent in 2015 to 93.7 this season. After all, if he’d remained perfect on extra points instead of missing three, the success rate for all NFL kickers this year would rise to 94.1 percent as a group. Gostkowski’s 91.2 percent success rate on extra points (31 of 34) likewise points to a kicker who has been below league average this year. A league-average kicker would have made one additional PAT through 34 attempts.
The view of Gostkowski’s struggles becomes even starker when accounting for his two field goal misses from 30-39 yards. On the whole, the league has converted 93.7 percent of all kicks (field goals and PATs) from 30-39 yards — down slightly from the 94.1 percent conversion rate in 2015, but up from the 90.1 percent in 2014, before the extra-point rule change.
Gostkowski is now at 88.4 percent on his 34 extra points and nine field goal attempts of 30-39 yards this season. That translates to roughly one miss more than a league-average kicker for every 19 attempts from what had been chip-shot distance to this point in Gostkowski’s career.
|30-39 yard field goal %||77.8||93.6|
|All 30-39 yard kicks %||88.4||93.7|
|Missed kicks of 39 yards or less||5||2.4|
Gostkowski had given the Patriots a subtle but consistent advantage throughout his career. To this point in 2016, that has not been the case.
That sounds ominous, and indeed, one need only think back to Gostowski’s miss of an extra point in last year’s AFC Championship game to recall how a season can pivot on a single missed kick.
But the fact that Gostkowski has struggled to make kicks at his customary success rate this year is far from a sentence dictating what will happen going forward. There were, for instance, 10 kickers in 2015 who missed at least three extra points. Of those, three have been significantly worse than they were even a year ago, one has performed at roughly the same level, and six have shown considerable improvement — including Adam Vinatieri, who missed three of his 35 extra point tries in 2015 but is a perfect 28 for 28 this year.
Gostkowski has fallen short not just of his own career-long excellence but also of league-average standards in 2016. That said, based on the limited evidence provided by last year’s group of kickers who struggled in the first season of longer point-after attempts, there’s reason to believe that Gostkowski is capable of reestablishing himself as an anchor of reliability . . . even if there is no guarantee that he will do so.