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Kicker aims to regain consistency that made him an All-Pro

(Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

FOXBOROUGH — Stephen Gostkowski loves golf, and so it was no surprise to hear the Patriots veteran kicker use the analogy he did after Friday’s training camp workout.

“Go back to the basics,” he said when asked about his focus for this summer. “Break the swing down.”

After an occasionally tumultuous year-plus, the former All-Pro is looking to get his groove back. In 2016, while his kickoff work was still among the best in the league in terms of booting it deep (but not deep enough for a returner to simply take a knee), there were uncharacteristic struggles, like missed extra points. (He was a career-low 93.9 percent on extra-point attempts.) And he missed five field-goal attempts, equaling his total for the previous two years combined. For a guy who had been as reliable as they come over the first decade or so of his career, it was a rare rough stretch.

To his credit, he was up front with the media. At one point, following a win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh when he missed an extra point for the second consecutive game, he bottom-lined his situation.

“Right now,” he said flatly, “I stink.”

He eventually righted the ship. He made 16 straight extra points to end the regular season, and 11 of 12 field-goal attempts down the stretch prior to the playoffs. He stumbled a bit in the Super Bowl, but was able to deliver a series of excellent kickoffs that helped augment the second-half success the team had against the Falcons. And the fact that the Patriots won a title for the second time in the last three years certainly helped things.

But the simple truth? For the four-time Pro Bowler, 2016 was a roller coaster ride.

“I don’t want to talk too much about last year,” he said. “There are a lot of things that happened that I wish I could change, and there were a lot of things I was proud of. It was a learning experience. At the end of the day, our team won. It was an unbelievable experience.

“I don’t like to press too much on the past, good or bad,” he said. “You have to try and earn your respect out here every day, no matter how long you’ve been here. You always have to prove yourself. And that’s why I’m just trying to take it one day at a time right now, to prove myself and have a couple of good days, string them together and build a couple of some good days and build that confidence up.”

While he said confidence wasn’t an issue for him last year, he acknowledged confidence will play a sizable role in the success or failure of any kicker.

“Obviously, the more you make, the more confident you are. This job can be really easy when you’re on a run of making 15 or 20 field goals in a row,” he said. “Then, it can be a little tougher when you’re missing a couple of kicks. It’s always a battle. You try to never get too high or too low.”

The focus now is on breaking things down and getting back to where he needs to be. For the 33-year-old Gostkowski — the leading scorer in the history of the franchise and the only kicker in camp — he’s ready to embrace the challenge of a new season.

“When things are going good, it’s easy to not focus on the little things. When you’re not as consistent as when you used to be, you have to go back to the drawing board,” he explained. “[I’m] just kind of [starting] from scratch. And that’s all I’ve been doing. New year. New start. Starting over and working on my fundamentals.

“I’m going to work hard and try to be good for this team every day,” he added. “I count my lucky stars that I have an opportunity to come out here and play for this organization.”


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