Stephen Gostkowski out for season
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots placed kicker Stephen Gostkowski on injured reserve with a thigh injury on Wednesday morning, ending his season. Kicking duties will now fall to newly signed Shayne Graham.
Gostkowski has a torn quad muscle that might require surgery, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and is expected to be fine for the 2011 season.
The loss of Gostkowski is a tough blow for the Patriots, as the fifth-year kicker is one of the best in the league at his position. He was 10 of 13 on field goals this season and 15 of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, which is third-best in the NFL.
"In the end we did what we felt was best for our football team. ... We have to make a decision based on the information you have at that particular time," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "If you had two weeks to wait and make a different decision, that's one thing. If you had a month, maybe you make a different decision."
The news came as a surprise to quarterback Tom Brady during his morning press conference.
"Didn't realize that. That's a bummer," Brady said when asked to comment on the news of Gostkowski's status. "He's been a hell of a player here. Great kicker. We've had a few guys put on IR that are real good, dependable players. ... He'll be missed."
It was originally thought Gostkowski could miss several weeks with the thigh injury, which was suffered during pregame warmups Sunday at Cleveland. He ultimately left Sunday's game in the second quarter. Receiver Wes Welker was called upon to kick an extra point in the second half and to handle kickoff duties.
"It's definitely big shoes to fill," said Graham, who will wear jersey No. 5. "I feel confident that I'm going to be able to play my best and hopefully the team won't skip a beat and will continue to perform well."
Graham will be just the third kicker for the Patriots since Belichick took the helm in 2000, after Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski.
"Any time a team loses a player, it's hard for the team to go through," Graham said. "No one wants to see a player go down with injury, especially a player the caliber of Stephen. He's done such a good job for this team.
"My goal is to come in here and perform at my best and perform well for the team and help us win games. I think the fact that I haven't been on a team for every game this year makes me a little hungry and makes me look forward to getting my career going on again."
Most Points Since 2006
Since he came into the league, no one has more points than Gostkowski. Adam Vinatieri ranks 17th in that span with 439 points, 130 fewer than Gostkowski.
Graham said his contract was for this season only, emphasizing that he's not here to compete with Gostkowski in the future.
"I foresee Steve coming back. He's the guy here," Graham said. "I'm in no position to feel like I'm trying to push him out of the way. I have a lot of respect for him and he's been really good to me. So I know when he's healthy, he'll be the guy and I'll be looking to make the best of my opportunities."
The 32-year-old Graham, who had been staying sharp by kicking on his own at Virginia Tech, said he kept a bag packed in case a team called. This week, both the Detroit Lions and Patriots were seeking kickers, and Graham called the Patriots his best opportunity.
Graham has a background with Patriots special teams coach Scott O'Brien, serving as an emergency fill-in in Carolina (2002) when O'Brien was coaching there. He also has familiarity with new Patriots snapper Matt Katula, as both were in Baltimore Ravens training camp this year together, and expressed confidence that the field-goal operation with Katula, holder Zoltan Mesko and himself will go smoothly.
Graham also has had success kicking at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, where the Patriots visit Sunday night. He is 9 for 11 in field goals there over the course of his career, including a game last year in which he went 4 of 5. The miss came from beyond 50 yards.
"Every goal post is the exact same dimension, that's the way I look at it," he said. "I have played on that field before, the turf conditions, the wind conditions, and every game is different. That's what pregame is for -- what wind patterns are like and get used to the footing -- and you learn from it and make the best of it. All those times I've played there in years past are all good memories, but they don't really mean anything until you strap up your shoes and play this Sunday."
Over the course of his 10-year career, Graham has hit 196 of 230 attempted field goals (an impressive 85.2 percent). His career, however, hasn't been without its hiccups. He missed two field goals in the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-14 playoff loss to the New York Jets last season, one of which was a 28-yarder.
"I've only got to play in two playoff games in my career and one of those games was probably the worst game of my life," he said. "It was just one of those days for me. I can't wait to have that chance, but at this point, I'm looking forward to Pittsburgh -- just getting my first game out there, getting my first field goal of the season, and getting the confidence of my teammates, and building my own confidence, is what I'm looking forward to."
Belichick, for one, expressed confidence in his new kicker.
"I think just his performance in the league, definitely a positive for him," Belichick said. "He's had a good career, outstanding career. I thought he performed well this year when he's had an opportunity. ... He's a good kicker, he's had a real good career."
The Patriots had Graham in for a workout in October, so he was high on their emergency list. Graham lost a training camp competition with Billy Cundiff in Baltimore and spent one game with the New York Giants this season -- a Week 6 win over Detroit -- filling in for the injured Lawrence Tynes and going 4 of 4 on extra points. He also had five kickoffs in that game, with one touchback.
Before the season, Gostkowski signed a contract extension that will keep him with the Patriots through 2014 and pay him an average of $3.5 million per season.
The Patriots on Wednesday also confirmed the signing of Katula and announced the release of former long snapper Jake Ingram. A sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2009, Ingram had struggled in recent games for the Patriots, including a bad snap on a punt during Sunday's loss to Cleveland.
Katula, 28, snapped for the Ravens from 2005-2009 before losing his job to rookie Morgan Cox this preseason.
"Everybody's fighting for a job, and some decisions are out of your hands," Katula said on Wednesday. "You just try to do your best, and do your job to the best of your abilities and that's what I hope to do here."
Dave Lefort is a writer and editor for ESPNBoston.com. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss and Mike Rodak contributed to this report.