The New England Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, 20-18, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski is taking the blame for the defeat. His team was forced to try what turned out to be a missed game-tying two-point conversion in the final seconds after the kicker missed an extra point in the first quarter.
Per Michael Whitmer of the Boston Globe, Gostkowski is taking the loss hard.
"I feel like I lost the game," Gostkowski said. "I feel sorry for myself, but I don't expect people to feel sorry for me."
Most likely they won't. Kickers are rarely lauded for making big kicks, considering it is their job, but when they miss anything considered automatic, they become an instant goat. Stephen A. Smith of ESPN had this to say:
Damn Shame! And Xtra point miss by Gostkowski -- one of the best -- prevents OT, cost NE in the end. Just sad— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) January 24, 2016
Gostkowski called the first missed extra point of his career in nine years a "nightmare scenario," per Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. Although it was his fault, some of the blame could be put on the NFL. Because of a rule change this season, extra-point attempts moved from the 2-yard line to the 15, which kept the kick easy for an NFL kicker, but certainly not automatic.
It hurts New England fans even more considering Gostkowski is arguably the best kicker in the league. He's converted 87.3 percent of his field goals and 502 of 503 extra points in the regular season throughout his career. Patriots safety Devin McCourty said his talent isn't worth arguing about, per Christopher Price of Boston's WEEI Radio:
McCourty called Gostkowski the "best kicker in the league."— Christopher Price (@cpriceNFL) January 25, 2016
Quarterback Tom Brady echoed McCourty's sentiments, per Phil Perry of CSNNE.com:
Brady on Gostkowski: "He's a great player. He's the best. Everyone misses them at some point. There was plenty of football left."— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) January 25, 2016
The missing point certainly played a role in the game, as the Patriots could have tied it at the end with an extra point instead of a two-point conversion, but as Gostkowski proved, even that is not a guarantee. In fact, if Brady had connected on his two-point pass attempt, the game would have only gone to overtime.
ESPN's Brian Burke noted the actual impact of Gostkowski's miss:
The missed XP turned out to be a big factor, so was nearly every other play! XP's WPA was < 3%. There were 69 plays with bigger WP swings.— Brian Burke (@bburkeESPN) January 25, 2016
Gostkowski is the second kicker to miss an easy kick that seemed to lose the game for his team this postseason after the Minnesota Vikings' Blair Walsh shanked a 27-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds of a 10-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card Round.
While fans are going to lament the missed kick for years to come, Gostkowski has been about as instrumental as a kicker can be to his team's success. It would be unfair to blame the loss entirely on him, but when the game is talked about from here on out, the play certainly won't be forgotten.