During Sunday’s 16-10 win over the Buffalo Bills, Stephen Gostkowski missed his fourth extra point of the season. Fans have been suspecting that something was wrong with the usually reliable Patriots placekicker, and those suspicions were confirmed on Wednesday afternoon when New England placed Gostkowski on injured reserve with a hip injury.
The 35-year-old will have season-ending surgery on his hip, leaving the undefeated New England Patriots without a kicker heading into Week 5. The team has been trying out kickers this week and currently has the search whittled down to two names.
Stephen Gostkowski is a big loss for the Patriots
Before the 2015 season, the NFL moved extra points to the 15-yard line in an attempt to make the extra-point play more interesting and less automatic. The change had the desired effect; after NFL kickers converted on 99.4% of their extra-point attempts from 2010 through 2014, that number has dropped to 94% since the new rule was implemented.
In 2015, Gostkowski went a perfect 52-for-52 from the new distance on extra-point attempts. From 2015 through 2018 he went 192-for-198, significantly above average with a 97% conversion rate. Before the distance change, Stephen Gostkowski had gone a perfect 407-for-407 on extra-point attempts from 2007 through 2014.
Gostkowski is New England’s all-time leading scorer. He has accounted for 1,775 points and is one of the league’s most accurate kickers, owning a career average of 87.4% on field goal attempts. A healthy Stephen Gostkowski is a legitimate difference-maker for the New England Patriots.
Even with an injured hip, Gostkowski still managed to convert on seven of his eight field goal attempts this year. But four misses extra points were clearly a sign that something was wrong, and now he’s getting the treatment that he needs for it.
Kai Forbath and Mike Nugent have emerged as potential replacements
The New England Patriots reportedly tried out a number of replacement kickers including Elliot Fry (who lost the Chicago Bears job to Eddy Pineiro this offseason), Blair Walsh, and Matthew Wright. But on Wednesday, they narrowed the search down to Kai Forbath and Mike Nugent.
Kai Forbath has a career field goal percentage of 85.7% with 120 made field goals on 140 attempts. The 32-year-old is 36-for-42 (85.7%) from 40-49 yards and 11-for-18 (61.1%) from over 50 yards out. He most recently kicked for the Jacksonville Jaguars for three games in 2018, converting on four of his five field goal attempts.
The veteran Mike Nugent has played for seven different teams, most recently kicking for the Oakland Raiders for three games in 2018 going 6-for-6 in his limited stay with the team. Nugent owns a career field goal percentage of 81.4%; he is 77-for-102 (75.5%) from 40-49 yards out and 13-for-30 (43.3%) from 50 or more yards out.
New England is taking its time to decide
Per the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the search is expected to continue through the end of the week, with the team potentially bringing in more free-agent kickers to try out on Thursday. While it makes sense for the Patriots to do their due diligence, they aren’t likely to find a better free-agent option available than Kai Forbath.
With Tom Brady running the offense and perhaps the greatest defense that Bill Belichick has ever coached, New England will in all likelihood be fine without Stephen Gostkowski. But when the schedule gets tougher, and the playoffs roll around, they will miss their veteran kicker.