From a mere athletic standpoint, Stephen Gostkowski’s performance in the New England Patriots’ playoff win against the Indianapolis Colts might have even topped LeGarrette Blount’s.
Gostkowski had to fill in for Ryan Allen when the rookie punter hurt his shoulder on a botched punt. Long snapper Danny Aiken’s snap flew over Allen’s head and the punter got hit after fielding the loose ball.
Gostkowski had never punted in a game — at any level. Then he booted kicks of 53 and 52 yards with above-average hangtime like he had been doing it his entire career.
"It’s a lot different," Gostkowski said about kicking and punting. "I was really just worried about catching it and getting it off. That’s the first time I’d ever punted in a game in my life so it was just a challenge and luckily I didn’t let it get me nervous. I felt pretty comfortable out there. I don’t know how, but I think getting off a good first punt helped a little bit too.
"I just tried not to do too much. We’ve got gunners like [Matthew] Slater and Kannoris [Davis] down there. I just give them a chance and I did the best I could.
"I’ve never punted in a game before. It’s one of those things where you really don’t know how you’re going to do. There are so many different things that go into punting with catching the ball, getting the laces around, and doing it all with the timing. They’ve got guys coming at you and [you have to] get the balls off fast enough. I have decent hands and I was a little worried that it was raining. So I put some gloves on and just tried to catch it and kick it to give the guys a chance. I’m upset that Bill [Belichick] ruined my net [yards] at the end there, but it was cool. I had a good time."
Belichick forced Gostkowski to punt from the Colts’ 26-yard line. He booted it out of the end zone, resulting in a touchback. Even with that short punt, the kicker averaged 41.8 yards per attempt on five punts, hitting two inside the 20-yard line. Belichick noted that Gostkowski had punted in practice before.
"That’s kind of playoff football — things like that happen," Belichick said. "Guys get called on to do something maybe they haven’t done all year, haven’t done in several years and come through at a big time. That was a great job by Steve, no question."
If Allen’s shoulder injury is serious, the Patriots will likely sign a new punter. And no, Zoltan Mesko is not available. He was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals before their playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers.