FOXBORO — Not once, but twice this season, Nick Folk has sent the football soaring through the goal posts from 50 yards away to deliver a game-winning field goal for the New England Patriots.
Folk smacked a 51-yarder through the uprights as time expired against his former employers, the New York Jets, on Nov. 9 and did it again Sunday at Gillette Stadium against the Arizona Cardinals.
“If we needed it, we could have pushed it a little bit more,” Folk said of quarterback Cam Newton working the clock instead of running another play before spiking the ball with three seconds left. “What were we at? The 32? By the 35-yard line would have been my normal ball, which is what I just hit there.
“I could have probably stretched it out and tried to — if you want to put in golf terms — hit a little bit of a driver-three wood ball if I needed to. But, got it down there in the range and I just hit a normal football.”
Folk extended his streak to 19 consecutive field goals with a 22-yard field goal in the third quarter and the game-winning 50-yard field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter. It marked the second time in his lengthy NFL career that Folk has made 19 straight. He did so back over the 2010-11 season with the New York Jets and hit a personal best 23 straight during the 2013 season, also with the Jets. Folk has hit 10 consecutive field goals or more seven times in his career.
“Mentally I try to tell myself I’ve done it a million times, it’s one more kick,” Folk said. “It’s the same thing over and over and over. That’s kind of the position we’re in.
“I go through my routine from stuff into the net, talking with Jake (Bailey, the ball holder) and Joe (Cardona, the ball snapper) on yard line and stuff like that, making sure that’s getting communicated.
“And then my little routine to make sure I’m ready to roll and go out there, have a good tempo, have good communication with everyone,” he added. “So I try to use that to my advantage, any of that pressure or whatever you want to call it. I want to use it. I don’t want to like kind of shun it away.
“The defense made a great stand on fourth down right before halftime and then again at the end of the game,” Folk said of the scenario for which New England was rewarded with his fifth victory of the season. “If they would have got a first down there, they could have ran the clock out and kicked a field goal.”
Folk’s field goal came on the series after Cardinals’ kicker Zane Gonzalez had misfired on a potential 45-yard game-winning field goal with 1:47 left to play.
“Special teams came up big in the return game — big kick return, big punt return. Jake (Bailey) punted the ball really well today,” Folk said. “So I think it was a full team win, all the way around. It wasn’t just me. There’s 120 to 140 plays in the whole game that led to that one last play and everyone contributed. I think we’re just happy to get that win and keep some good steam rolling forward.
Folk’s 50-yard field goal was the second-longest game-winning field goal with no time left in Patriots’ history, next to the 51-yarder against the Jets earlier in the month. The previous longest was 48 yards by Adam Vinatieri in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams.
The 36-year-old Folk has had a winding career since being drafted by Dallas in 2007, having hit 81 percent of his career field goal attempts (276 of 341). He played three seasons with the Cowboys before becoming the Jets’ kicker for seven seasons. Folk spent one season in Tampa and is now in his second season with the Patriots, coming in after Stephan Gostkowski suffered a hip injury.
The fact that three Patriots’ veterans — Folk, Newton and White — contributed to the Patriots’ victory was not lost on coach Bill Belichick.
“The leadership we’ve gotten from captains and some of the other veteran players here in the last few weeks has been awesome,” Belichick said. “I think that’s really helped bring some other players along to prepare better and ultimately perform a little more consistently
“Cam pulled the ball on the run play, got outside, made a big play there to get the ball into Nick’s range. We didn’t have any timeouts.
“I thought that situation, again, Cam did a nice job of putting us in position coming down to the final kick. Nick came through again. That was great for it all to work out there.”
According White, what Newton and Folk executed in the final minute was not to be underestimated.
“It’s not an easy kick,” White said of Folk’s game-winner “He’s been making huge kicks for us all year long. I have extreme confidence in him. All we have to do is just get in field-goal position and give him the opportunity.”
Newton scrambled for a 14-yard gain to make the first down marker and then took a late hit out of bounds resulting in a Cardinals’ penalty and deeper advancement of the ball,
“It meant a lot for the team and I’m sure it was huge for him as well.,” said White. “It’s not always going to be pretty out there (after the Cardinals missed a potential game-winning field goal). None of us are going to play perfect out there including myself. Like I said, I had some terrible plays out there too. So it was huge, just got to make the plays when they matter the most.
“In that situation right there — we always talk about situational football. It was third-and-long and to be able to make that run and covert for us was probably the biggest play of the game.”
Folk has experienced the feeling of being in a winning postgame locker room and it’s much more rewarding when he can contribute to the elation.
“Everyone’s excited, to get a win in this league is tough to come by,” Folk said. “Everyone played their part. Everyone’s excited all the way top down. I enjoy that. It was fun. So, I’m just happy we got a win. It was a good team win all around.
“I’ve said it before, I just put the cherry on top. The guys do a bunch of stuff from play one until the last play of the game to put us in that situation. It was an all-around team win. I just happened to have the last touch of it.”