FOXBORO -- Stephen Gostkowski stood up straight in front of his locker and thought back to a time when he made things hard for himself.
Earlier in his career he stressed about that which young athletes are inclined to stress about, especially in a league known for the brevity of its players' careers: salary, performance, legacy.
But when he thought about those worries on Sunday night after he set the single-season Patriots records for field goals (38) and points (157) and helped his team to a 34-20 win over the Bills, Gostkowski took a breath and smiled.
"I've got so much to be thankful for," Gostkowski said. "I've got a good wife, a good family. I've been blessed to be on this team for eight years. It's all bonus money right now. Everything is bonus. I'm having fun again playing. The pressures of playing, and making more money, and expectations and stuff . . . I don't think about any of that stuff anymore. It's just nice to do well and help the team win. It's easy to be in a good mood when you're doing well."
Gostkowski was able to kick accurately on Sunday night in some of the worst weather conditions he said he had ever experienced -- second only to a game in Buffalo in 2008 when winds whipped up between 50 and 60 mph.
"As far as rain wise, I've never been in anything close to that," Gostkowski said of the downpours at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night that lasted throughout the game. "That was crazy."
He added: "When it’s like that, you’ve just got to increase your focus and increase how you go about things. You’ve got to slow things down a little bit and just make sure that everything goes smoothly. Danny [Aiken] and Ryan [Allen] did a great job. One thing that stinks about playing here but also that’s good is we practice outside everyday, no matter what it is. You complain and gripe when it’s 35 degrees outside and it’s raining or snowing or really windy. It pays off, though. The coaches know what they’re doing when they put us out there for games like this."
Gostkowski said he didn't make any changes to his footwear based on the wet turf, only changing his socks at halftime.
"But the first time I kicked after that they were soaked anyway," he said.
Gostkowski set the franchise record for field goals when he booted his third of the first half against the Bills, giving him 37 for the year. His third came as time expired in the second quarter and gave the Patriots a 16-3 halftime lead over Buffalo.
His 35-yard fourth-quarter boot gave him 38 on the season, two more than the team record he set in 2008.
He also broke New England's single-season record for points when he hit his fourth quarter kick, eclipsing Gino Cappelletti's record (155 points) that Cappelletti set as a receiver and a placekicker for the Patriots in 1964.
“I didn’t know that happened," Gostkowski said. "That’s cool, I guess. I’m just happy we got the first-round bye.”
Gostkowski explained that without the trust he has in his holder (Allen) and his snapper (Aiken), he never would have produced the kinds of results that he did in the 2013 regular season.
"You can't have any second doubts -- especially on a night like tonight -- that the snap and the hold aren't going to be there," Gostkowski said. "When you go out there and have some success, the confidence builds and I don't even think about it.
"I don't worry about them doing their job, just like they don't worry about me doing mine. Is it perfect every time? No. But we work to make sure it's as close to perfect as we can get it. If Danny has a not-so-good snap, Ryan's supposed to bail him out. And if Ryan has a not-so-good hold, it's my job to try to make it so it doesn't look bad on all of us. We take a lot of pride in doing what we do. It's a very monotonous, thankless job sometimes. I probably kick 500-600 kicks in practice for every one I kick in the game. Just to keep your focus and your confidence going, it's just a mental grind. These guys have done a great job, and I wouldn't have had a decent year without them."
Belichick also lauded the work of his special teams trio in daunting conditions on Sunday.
"Oh man," Belichick said. "All three of those guys. This is about as tough of conditions as you can kick in -- snap, hold and kick in. I thought Ryan did a great job of getting the ball down and Danny of course snapping it and Steve kicking it. These are not easy kicks. The whole operation, the timing and just the execution of them, but the balls were up, they were high, they were straight and Steve did a great job but so did -- the whole operation was good. It was a tough day to kick."
It was in 2006 that Gostkowski was drafted to be Adam Vinatieri's replacement after Vinatieri helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls with a host of unforgettably clutch kicks. Gostkowski was a young kid with a big leg but even bigger shoes to fill.
Now he's the one setting the example for younger teammates, especially Aiken (third-year pro) and Allen (rookie).
"It was good coming in as a young guy and learning under him," Aiken said. "He teaches you a lot about the game and a lot about the sport. He's just very good at what he does. It's focus and doing the little things right."
Ryan, who is serving as a holder for the first time in his football life, admitted he's already picked up a great deal from Gostkowski.
"The biggest tip that Steve has ever given me has been to stay level throughout an entire game and not become a roller coaster," Allen said. "Don't ride the highs and don't ride the lows. Be able to stay level. He's instilled that in me. That's one of the biggest things I've taken away from him. I look at each opportunity for us to go out and put some points on the board is equally important as the one before, regardless of the situation in the game and the score of the game. It's points on the board. That's our job. That's what we're asked to do and paid to do. We try to do that to the best of our ability."
With 38 makes in 40 attempts, Gostkowski is once again one of the best in the league. He has made big kicks against the Bills, Jets, Falcons, Broncos and Texans this season and has been one of New England's most reliable offensive weapons in a year during which close games have been the norm.
Gostkowski has provided great value to New England with his kickoffs as well. He's booted 64 for touchbacks, which is tied for second in the NFL behind only Matt Prater of the Broncos. Gostkowski also helped the Patriots beat the Browns in Week 14 with a perfectly-placed onside kick late in the fourth quarter.
Despite his credentials, Prater and Justin Tucker of the Ravens were selected over Gostkowski to represent the AFC in the Pro Bowl last week.
Maybe at one point in time earlier in his career, that might have bothered Gostkowski. But not now.
Like the money and the expectations, even the records, he doesn't worry about the results of Pro Bowl voting. He's let all those things go and put together what has been arguably the best season of his career.
"Oh I don't care," he said. "I'm just happy we're in the playoffs."