When he came to the New England Patriots last year, Stephen Gostkowski had the football equivalent of succeeding Carl Yastrzemski in the Boston Red Sox’s outfield or following Johnny Carson as host of “The Tonight Show.”
Gostkowski, drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots out of Memphis, took over the team’s kicking duties from Adam Vinatieri, who kicked two Super Bowl-winning field goals.
But Gostkowski said that he has never felt any pressure to live up to his predecessor, who signed as a free agent with Indianapolis.
“Adam was here, and he did what he did,” Gostkowski said. “He paved ways for a lot of kickers. New England chose me, brought me here and showed confidence in me.”
Gostkowski made 21 of 24 field-goal attempts during the regular season.
“We scouted him and thought that he would be able to kick in this league,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s done a good job.”
In last year’s divisional playoff at San Diego, Gostkowski kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:10 left to give the Patriots a 24-21 win.
“If it’s a close game, I’ll be ready,” Gostkowski said. “It would be nice to kick a game winner, but I don’t think about that. I think about the first kick I have to make.”
Belichick’s final question-and-answer session with reporters before the game, held on Friday at the Phoenix Convention Center, was just how the coach likes it: uneventful.
In fact, the most notable sight was the Vince Lombardi Trophy — making its first media-function appearance of the week — near the podium.
Belichick was asked again about New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress’ victory prediction and the Giants’ reportedly planning a parade for Tuesday.
“I know there is a lot of talk about somebody said this, somebody said that, some other town is doing that, whatever it is,” Belichick said. “This game will be decided by which team performs best. That’s the way it should be.”
Late in the season, Laurence Maroney started getting a bigger role in the Patriots’ offense. He became even more valuable in the playoffs, rushing for 244 yards in two games.
The rushing of Maroney, a second-year player, helped New England bleed the last nine minutes of the fourth quarter off the clock against San Diego in the AFC championship game.
“To be out there late in the game and have the team show confidence in me has meant a lot,” said Maroney, who ran for 835 yards during the regular season. “I want the team to be confident that we can run the ball when we want to.”
In the Patriots’ last five games, Maroney has failed to rush for at least 100 yards once — against the Giants on Dec. 29.