Team Talk Week 9 - Stephen Gostkowski

When the final gun fired for week eight’s much anticipated International Series game at Wembley, 84,004 fans dispersed with one thought in mind: those New England Patriots can really play.

Above all the Patriots are a team that can score in any number of ways - with Brady, Gronkowski, Welker, Lloyd, Hernandez, or Ridley. But in Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots just happen to have one of the league’s deadliest, most reliable kickers too - a point he proved on Sunday with six extra points, a field goal, and a series of booming kick-offs that neutralised the Rams’ return game.

With the team back in the States having safely navigated the very real dangers of Hurricane Sandy on Monday, Gostkowski joined Team Talk to discuss his best moments from the London trip, to talk about how Wembley is one of the best stadiums on the planet, and to tell us why he likes to play as himself in video games.   

Stephen, first of all, how is everything on the East Coast now that Hurricane Sandy has passed through?

SG: All the bad weather has gone now but it was pretty scary flying back. Our area didn’t get hit as bad as they expected but there are a lot of people down the East Coast who don’t have power and have been hit really hard.

Twitter follower Lon Lo has written in to ask: ‘Were you able to get home OK from London on Monday?’

SG: Yes, we had a good safe landing. They moved the flight up a couple of hours so we left London at about 5am. Some of the guys had to walk right back in from going out to celebrate to pick up their bags from their rooms and leave for the airport.

So you did at least get a chance to get out into London to celebrate?

SG: We all went to different places - pubs or bars or clubs or casinos, depending what was open because it was a Sunday night. It’s great to be able to hang out with the team to celebrate the win like that because you don’t often get the chance to do that together after a road win. It was pretty hard to go from that to walking onto a plane flying into a possible hurricane, but it was nice to get home and be safe.

Tell us about your experience of playing in Wembley on Sunday for a second time (you also played here in 2009)…

SG: Oh I love the stadium. Wembley is the most coolest stadium I’ve played in. The atmosphere is great and it’s a cool change of pace and so nice to be somewhere different. It was a big win for us, just as it was three years ago, so to go all that way and do all that travel and have that result is great. Also you get to spend two days in one of the greatest cities in the world, and the Patriots did a good job of allowing us free time and yet keeping our focus on the game.

So you did do a little sight-seeing?

SG: I went to Buckingham Palace and saw Big Ben, though I decided not to go on the London Eye because the queue was too long! I really enjoyed the scenery in Hyde Park and at Westminster Abbey too. It was cool just to see all the tradition and history.

You won 45-7. Do victories get much more comprehensive than that?

SG: All the games we’ve played this year except for week one have been pretty close, so it is sometimes nice to have a good old-fashioned butt kicking. It’s nice to be able to do that then go into the bye, rest up and get healthy as a team.

At his introductory press conference in London, head coach Bill Belichick was in true ‘gruff’ form, answering questions with ‘No’, ‘I haven’t thought about it’ and even ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about’. Is that the real Bill Belichick or is he much warmer behind the scenes?

SG: Coach Belichick is all business, all the time. He talks about football and how to go about winning games. He does have a dry sense of humour, but what you see is what you get, and 99% of the time his focus is on football.

Let’s ask you some more questions from Twitter followers now. Eamon Ward wonders: ‘What did you think of the atmosphere at Wembley compared to other stadiums in the US?’

SG: It’s such an unbelievably cool looking stadium the way it’s sort of indoors but the roof is open. It’s still natural grass too rather than the FieldTurf we often have. Just the atmosphere with 80-something-thousand people and lots of people waving flags… so cool. I know we have a big following in England too, so it was great to be able to sort of take away the Rams’ homefield advantage. And of course we’re used to the cold and the rain, and they’re a dome team.

Liam Godfree asks: ‘Stephen, what technique do you use to kick the ball straight down the middle of the uprights?’

SG: It’s repetition and routine. Just one of those things where you try to do the same thing every time - in your approach, your follow through, leg swing. It’s not that different to kicking a soccer ball except that you’re kicking it higher to get it over the defense. You definitely can curve it if you don’t kick it in the middle so you have to be careful with getting a good contact. It’s a bit like a golf swing: keep your head down, follow through, get that contact. It’s tough to make them all but if you’re mentally tough you can bounce back from the ones you don’t.

Andrew Roberts asks: ‘Is the trip to London an adventure, or a distraction for the Patriots players?’

SG: It can be a distraction if you let it be, and of course there are always going to be a couple of guys who complain. The only real distraction is the difference in time zones - it can be hard to be awake at certain times. But Coach Belichick told us: ‘If you win then it’s not a distraction.’ We won so looking back we just see at as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Chris Brophy asks: ‘Does an NFL kicker always draft himself in a fantasy football league?’

SG: I would definitely pick myself every time if I had a fantasy team. Even if I play a video game I pick my team and operate as myself. Sometimes it’s easier to make the field goals on there than in the real games! I’ve got the routine down.

Do you know a lot about fantasy?

SG: I have a lot of friends and family that play and I’d say about 90% of the questions I get asked are about fantasy!

In which case could you pick your ideal NFLUK fantasy squad comprising one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, a tight end, a defense and a kicker?

SG: Sure. Of course I’d pick Brady or Manning as my quarterback - they both put up a lot of points. Then I’d have Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte as my running backs because, let’s face it, they’re pretty darn good. I’d take Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson as receivers because they’re both unbelievable as well. At tight end - it’s got to be Gronk hasn’t it? Then at kicker I’d pick me! We score a lot of points and I get a lot of opportunities. And I’d pick the Patriots defense too because we forced three or four turnovers last week so I’ll ride them while they’re hot.

And what would you call this super squad?

SG: Oh, I’d have to think about that one. I don’t want to rush it so come back to me on that. I do know that, being around football all the time, I’m always going to want to win.

Talking of which, since your last visit to Wembley in 2009, the Patriots have won a further three AFC East titles and been to a Super Bowl. Can the team repeat that level of success in the aftermath of this year’s visit?

SG: We like to hope so. All you can do is give yourself a chance to win as often as you can, but lots has to go your way to be successful for a long time, you need to avoid injuries too. It’s tough to be good and be good all the time. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing.

We know the Patriots are determined only to think one game at a time, but do you ever dream about facing the Giants in the Super Bowl again and trying to flip the script?

SG: The team never talks about that stuff, but obviously everybody else does. I think if you get too far ahead you can get lost a bit, so you’ve got to take it one day at a time and not lose focus on what you’re doing now. Worry about doing our job day to day and then good things will happen. But obviously you do look back at games you’ve lost and wish they could have gone differently. It’s hard not to think about those games, but you have to learn to move on and turn it into a positive. The good ones in this league are the ones who can put it behind them.

Which as a kicker is a skill you’ve had to learn from day one…

SG: Yes. I’m just glad to have made the playoffs six times in my career - there are guys who have been playing in this league 10 years and never made it. When it’s done I hope I can set my cleats down and say I was a player who helped his team win, that was a good person, and that I can be happy with what I’ve achieved.

To find out who’s up next in our Team Talk interviews, keep an eye on @NFL_UK and @MikeELawrence on Tuesday afternoons. You can submit questions for our next interviewee on Tuesdays @MikeELawrence.