Minnesota Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer was sitting in his office one day in August when a conversation took a hard left – or perhaps a push right – toward kickers.

“They drive me crazy,” Zimmer said.

At that point, he didn’t realize that rookie Daniel Carlson would last only two games before a Lambeau Field implosion that ushered in Dan Bailey to finish the season.

By Week 3 last fall, the Vikings were using their third full-time kicker in a four-game span going back to last year’s NFC championship game.

Now compare that to New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick’s experience with kickers.

Belichick has had three full-time kickers.

In 425 games.

Over 24 seasons going back to 1991, when he was with the Cleveland Browns.

Matt Stover, Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski.

And get this. The only time an injury forced Belichick to use part-time help, Shayne Graham stepped in off the street and made 14 of 14 field goals in nine games as the Patriots, of course, reached the playoffs in 2010.

So yeah, the Patriots do pretty much have it all.

Best defensive coaching mind in NFL history? Check.

Best quarterback in NFL history? Sorry, Mr. Montana, but a reluctant check.

Best three-decade run of place-kickers? Checkmate.

The last time the Patriots had a full-time kicker not named Vinatieri or Gostkowski was 1995. Matt Bahr was 39 and in the last of his 17 NFL seasons.

Belichick inherited Vinatieri when he replaced the fired Pete Carroll in 2000.

Things didn’t look so good through the first 18 games. Belichick and Drew Bledsoe were in the late stages of falling to 5-13 when Mo Lewis of the Jets delivered the hit that cracked Bledsoe’s sternum, causing internal bleeding and jump-starting the Belichick & Brady dynasty that’s won five Super Bowls and will play in a ninth one Sunday in Atlanta against the Los Angeles Rams.

Someday, when the 41-year-old Brady, the 46-year-old Vinatieri and the 66-year-old Belichick finally leave this game, they’ll be reunited in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Vinatieri’s career took off during the 2001 postseason. He made a 45-yard field goal through the snow to tie the Raiders and send the conference semifinal to overtime, then won the game in overtime. And, of course, he beat the Rams with a 48-yarder as time expired in the Super Bowl.

Vinatieri was 33 with a 10-1 playoff record and three Super Bowl rings when Belichick allowed him to leave after the 2005 season.

No problem. Not for Belichick.

In the fourth round that year, he took a kicker from Memphis. Gostkowski turns 35 on Monday and has served as Belichick’s kicker in 227 games, including five Super Bowls.

Eons ago, Belichick was 39 and had just won a Super Bowl as the Giants’ defensive coordinator when he got the Browns’ head coaching job in 1991. One of his first moves was to sign Stover.

Stover was a 12th-round pick of the Giants in 1990. He spent the year on injured reserve, but handled every kick the Browns attempted over the next 82 games and five seasons before the team fired Belichick, skipped town to Baltimore and renamed themselves the Ravens.

There have been 2,019 field goal and point-after kicks attempted by Belichick-coached teams in 24 seasons. Three players – Stover, Vinatieri and Gostkowski – have taken 97.4 percent (1,966) of them.

The rest have been handled by Graham (52), receiver Wes Welker, who made his only point-after attempt in 2010, and backup quarterback Doug Flutie, who made a PAT off a drop kick – the league’s first since 1941 – in the 2005 season finale.

Zimmer and the Vikings head into 2019 with more uncertainty at kicker. Bailey made only 75 percent of his field-goal attempts and will become a free agent.

Meanwhile, in New England, there’s Belichick and the Patriots. In 19 seasons they’ve had only one year in which their field-goal percentage dipped below 76.9 percent.

They’ve also had seven seasons of 90 percent or better and 16 seasons of 80 percent or better.

Believe it or not, there are places where the kicker doesn’t drive anyone crazy.


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