Bears’ loss a reminder of how good Patriots kickers have been, and other thoughts on the playoffs
A few thoughts on the NFL postseason while calling ’em the San Diego Chargers roughly every other mention . . .
■ It’s impossible to watch the assorted playoff games without considering them foremost through a Patriots-centric prism.
Heck, that’s the assignment as well as the habit on most game days, especially during the wild-card round when the Patriots have their annual bye and we’re waiting to learn the identity of their next opponent.
It’s a nice little tradition of NFL postseason narcissism on our part, and one that’s wholly justified, if you ask me. I mean, when the Patriots began this run, Cody Parkey was just a few years past ricocheting mini-footballs off the posts of his crib.
It’s also one that was especially prevalent this past weekend, not just in terms of how the outcomes affected the Patriots, but how certain plot twists in the games were reminiscent of similar — but often more successful — moments in Patriots history.
Take Parkey, for instance. (Bears fans, in unison: “Yes, please do.”) Watching the poor guy play Plinko with the goalpost and crossbar on what would have been, with one friendly bounce, a winning 43-yard field goal in the Bears’ 16-15 loss to the Eagles, was a reminder of how fortunate the Patriots have been at kicker since Adam Vinatieri arrived on the scene in 1996.
For the last 23 seasons, the Patriots have basically had two kickers: Vinatieri, the best there was and the best there has ever been, and successor Stephen Gostkowski, who is the leading scorer in franchise history and has made 87.4 percent of his field goal attempts in his career.
(And, yes, Shayne Graham kicked the second half of 2010 when Gostkowski had a torn quadriceps.)
The kicker before Vinatieri, veteran Matt Bahr, wasn’t bad either, though he wasn’t a threat from long range in his Patriots days. How long has it been that the Patriots have been blessed with excellent kickers? Put it this way: Matt Bahr is 62 years old now.
There’s a segment of Patriots fans that likes to gripe about Gostkowski. He has had a few significant misses in recent years, some that have altered the tenor of important games — a missed extra point in a 2-point, AFC Championship game loss to the Broncos in January 2016, another missed extra point in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles.
But that’s going to happen with the volume of postseason attempts that he has had — and he’s made 78 of 82 extra points (95.1 percent) and 34 of 38 field goals (89.5 percent) in his playoff career. He doesn’t have a defining kick like Vinatieri does — actually, Vinatieri has at least four of them — but who does? Wouldn’t shock me if his big moment came against the Chargers Sunday, and I’d expect him to make it.
He’s not Cody Parkey, and he’s definitely not Scott “Missin’ ” Sisson. (Look him up if you’ve forgotten what a Patriots kicker worth fretting about looks like.)
■ The Patriots quarterback situation has also been decent for a couple of generations now, I think we’d agree, even if I refuse to believe it has been 26 years since Bill Parcells made the right call in the Drew Bledsoe-vs.-Rick Mirer who-should-go-No. 1? debate.
It’s a smaller thing than Parkey’s miss (that has to be the only field goal attempt in NFL history to hit a defender’s hand, an upright, and a crossbar), but watching the precious seconds tick off the clock as Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky tried to align his teammates so he could spike the ball prior to Parkey’s kick, it reminded me of Tom Brady’s preternatural poise while doing the same before Vinatieri’s kick to win Super Bowl XXXVI. You remember — Brady didn’t just spike the ball, he took one hard dribble and caught it, all in one cool, easy motion, like he’d been in the situation 1,000 times before and prevailed every time.
It really is remarkable. The Patriots have been in about every imaginable big-moment situation these last two decades. And so when we see another team in this big situation or that one, recollections of the Patriots succeeding in a similar circumstance are easily found in the film vault of our minds.
I don’t take it for granted, even after all these years. If anything, it still feels like a blessing has been granted. Karmic payback for Super Bowl XX, probably.
■ If you’re a Patriots fan of a certain age — namely, one that remembers when Bill Belichick was not the head coach, so someone who is at a minimum 25 years old now — there’s always a small satisfaction in watching Pete Carroll’s season end ignominiously.
In his three years as the Patriots’ coach, he took the team Parcells stacked with talent and promise and allowed it to regress incrementally, especially in terms of discipline, until he was fired after an 8-8 season in 1999.
You won’t catch me saying this often, or perhaps never again, but: Nice job, Cowboys.
■ File under Won’t Get Fooled Again. I thought the Patriots would be playing the Texans this weekend. Should have known better. They’re the NFL’s annual frauds of January. The Colts stuffed them in their lockers and took their letterman jackets.
■ Can’t decide if Nick Foles is the new Jeff Hostetler or the new Earl Morrall, but this recurring postseason superhero routine has to bother Carson Wentz just a little bit, doesn’t it?
■ If you want to feel better about Rob Gronkowski’s diminished speed, focus on Antonio Gates for a few plays Sunday. Gronk will look like Bethel Johnson by comparison.