Getting kicker Stephen Gostkowski on track a top Patriots priority

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Getting kicker Stephen Gostkowski on track has to be one of the New England Patriots’ top priorities as they begin preparations for Sunday’s home game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Gostkowski missed his third field goal of the season in the 33-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, pushing a 50-yard attempt wide to the right. That came on the heels of Gostkowski missing a 48-yarder the week before and a 39-yard attempt in Week 2.

This puts him close to uncharted territory, as he missed three field goals all of last season. In 2014, he was 35 of 37 on field-goal attempts.

Always accountable, Gostkowski told the Boston Herald after Sunday’s game, “I’m obviously not playing up to my standards, but there’s a new shot next week.”

Meanwhile, special teams captain Matthew Slater was among those rallying around the 11-year veteran. “He’s a proven player, a veteran in this league who has had a lot of success year in and year out,” he said. “Football is a game of ups and downs -- there are going to be some good times and there are going to be some bad times -- but we just stick with it. And we definitely stick with Stephen.”

One area where Gostkowski is delivering is on kickoffs, as his ability to combine hang time and placement has given the coverage unit a chance to make plays and help win the field-position game. Over the years, coach Bill Belichick has remarked how Gostkowski isn’t viewed as just a kicker among teammates.

“Stephen’s one of our hardest-working players and I’d say one of the most respected players on the team because of the way he does work and how team-oriented he is,” Belichick said Monday in a show of his own support. “Whatever we’ve asked him to do, whether it be the training things or kickoffs or situations -- the amount of field goals where we’ve had multiple holders and snappers over the course of his career -- he does a great job of working with those guys and just working to make the operation better and more consistent.

“We’ll keep doing that just like we do with everything else in our program.”