FOXBORO — In a stadium filled with 68,756 fans sitting in stunned silence, no one was more devastated than Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
“I had an opportunity to win that game,” said Gostkowski. “It came down to me and I didn’t pull through for my team. It stinks and I feel bad for the fans and my teammates. I just didn’t come through. No one feels worse than I do.”
It looked to be a sure thing when Gostkowski ran onto the field in the final seconds of Sunday’s game.
The red-hot kicker set up for a game-winning 42-yard field goal with five seconds left on the clock, having already hit four field goals for the day, two from over 50 yards.
But the celebration that had already begun at Gillette Stadium turned to utter disbelief for Pats fans when Gostkowski shanked the kick well left of the uprights, giving the Cardinals an ugly 20-18 win.
Win gone, the chance for Gostkowski to build a legacy as one of the great kickers in Patriots history dealt a deathly blow.
“There isn’t a game where I would have felt more comfortable going out there,” he said. “It wasn’t the smoothest kick and I looked up and saw it go left and …. I didn’t do my job. This humbles you very quickly.”
Is a 42-yard field goal a chip-shot? Probably not. But the kick yesterday once again proved an unfortunate reality of the seventh-year man’s career.
Gostkowski simply has never proven he can succeed in clutch situations. Sure, he is prolific. He has made 147 of his 174 field goal attempts for his career, an 84-percent success rate.
But in his time as a Patriot he has rarely ever shown he can perform when the heat is on.
Granted, Gostkowski faced an impossible task when he joined the Patriots, replacing Adam Vinatieri, considered by most to be the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history.
But the numbers don’t lie for Gostkowski.
Since taking over the kicking job in 2006, Gostkowski has made only three field goals in “clutch-and-late” situations -- or inside the final two minutes or overtime to put the Patriots ahead or tie the game.
Two of those were in the same game, a 2010 win over the Baltimore Ravens. The other came against the San Diego Chargers in his rookie season.
Following Sunday’s miss — which held a striking resemblance to Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff’s shank on the same end of the field in the AFC Championship game last season — Gostkowski was ready to shoulder the blame.
“For the next couple of days I am sure I will get ripped by the fans for this,” he said. “It is well deserved. I need to come through for the guys and I didn’t do it.”
Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko, who is also the holder on field goals, struggled to explain the miss, but did his best to defend his kicker, and the man with the locker next to his.
“I thought we had a good operation (on the snap and hold) then I looked up and it was left,” said Mesko. “But Steve knows we risk failure every time we go out on the field.
“We are together all the time in practice, so he is like family to me. I trust him no matter what, and I believe he can move past this and bounce back. He is a strong guy.”
Tom Brady was also quick to come to Gostkowski’s defense, pointing out the Patriots’ struggles to score and ill-timed penalties.
“We were just too inconsistent to really put enough points on the board,” said Brady. “We were in the game because of Stephen. Over the course of the season those things happen. You miss kicks, you throw interceptions, you fumble the ball. No one play loses a game. Hopefully it never comes down to a 42-yard field goal at the end.”
But, despite the words of encouragement, Gostkowski — like most of the Patriots fanbase — was stinging after the game.
“You don’t get opportunities like that very often and you have to come through,” he said. “I am not afraid to fail. If I let this hurt me going forward I am not doing my job. But today I just didn’t pull through for my team.”