Over the years, fans of the New England Patriots have been incredibly spoiled in the kicking department, with just 3 kickers signed in total from 1996 through October 2, 2019. The first 10 seasons of that span were Adam Vinatieri, then Stephen Gostkowski from 2006-2019. There was an 8-game stint that required the assistance of Shayne Graham in 2010 when Gostkowski’s season was cut short with a thigh injury, but until October 2, 2019, those 3 were it. The Patriots then signed K Mike Nugent the day following Gostkowski’s injury in 2019 and after 3 weeks, released him to sign current Patriots kicker Nick Folk; just the 5th kicker at the time to sign in New England in 23 seasons.
My reaction to the Nick Folk signing on October 30, 2019 was not a positive one. I watched a fair amount of Folk earlier in his career during his 3-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys and then his 7-year stint with the New York Jets and the results were mixed, to put it generously. In 2009, Folk hit only 64.3% of his field goal attempts, which ultimately led to him landing with the Jets. His career with the Jets was better after the first few years, but there was always a sense that he would miss the big kick in a clutch situation, whether warranted or not. After being released from the Jets in 2017, Folk spent one miserable year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before looking for work in the Alliance of American Football.
Then in October of 2019 the Patriots came calling to give him another shot in the NFL at age 34. Since joining the Patriots, Nick Folk has somehow turned himself into a reliable and consistent place kicker, improving upon all of his previous career numbers. Prior to coming to New England, Folk was an 80.3% field goal kicker who hit 91.7% of tries under 30 yards, 89.9% from 30-39 yards, and just 66.7% from 40+. In his two+ years with the Patriots, Folk has hit 90.4% of all his field goal tries, including an insane 100% from under 40 yards (26 tries) and 80.8% from 40+ yards. For comparison, Adam Vinatieri was only an 81.9% field goal kicker in his 10 seasons with the Pats. To be fair Folk has missed 4 extra points in his 48 attempts with the Pats (91.7%), but overall he’s made up for those 4 points with many more field goals made.
In 2020, Folk ranked as the 8th best kicker in football by field goal percentage (92.9%), well ahead of the Pats former kicker Stephen Gostkowski (69.2%) who ranked 31st out of 33 in football. In 2021, Folk is looking just as strong as last season early on, hitting his first 7 tries in 2 games thus far. In week 1, Folk broke the Patriots consecutive field goal streak (formerly 29) and extended it in the win over the New York Jets on Sunday to 33-straight. To break a kicking record in New England is incredible given the recent history of Vinatieri and Gostkowski at that position.
It’s still hard for me to not cringe when Folk is kicking a field goal in a big spot, but by all accounts he has been great for the Pats. With a rookie QB that is being eased into the NFL, Folk becomes an even more critical piece this season to score points and thus deserves more attention than in the past. Let’s hope this new Nick Folk trend of reliability and consistency is here to stay.