FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Shayne Graham kept his bags in his car in case an NFL team wanted him. He can unpack now.
Graham has joined the New England Patriots, whose kickers had shown exceptional durability — until last Sunday.
He replaces Stephen Gostkowski, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a thigh injury, shelving him for the rest of the season. But the former Cincinnati Bengals kicker knows he has to produce to keep from packing up again.
“I’ll still treat it as a game-by-game basis,” Graham said. “I’ve got to perform well each week and give them a reason to want to keep me around here.”
New England hasn’t worried much about its kicking game over the last 14 seasons. Adam Vinatieri played every game from 1996 to 2005 and made two Super Bowl-winning field goals. Gostkowski played every game the past four seasons and the first half of this season.
Only two other players have attempted extra points over that stretch. There was Doug Flutie’s drop kick in a 28-26 loss to Miami in the 2005 season finale, the first drop kick in the NFL in 64 years, and Wes Welker subbing for Gostkowski in last Sunday’s 34-14 loss to Cleveland.
While warming up before that game, Gostkowski felt tightness in his right thigh. He kicked an extra point after a second-quarter touchdown and the ensuing kickoff, but that was it.
“That’s a bummer,” quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday. “He’s been a hell of a player here and a great kicker. We’ve had a few guys put on IR this year that are really great, dependable players that have worked hard Kevin (Faulk) and Ty Warren. He will be missed.”
New England also signed long snapper Matt Katula to replace Jake Ingram, who was released, and added cornerback Thad Turner to the practice squad.
The Patriots used an unusually high pick for a kicker, a fourth-rounder, when they drafted Gostkowski out of Memphis in 2006 after they let Vinatieri leave as a free agent for Indianapolis. Since then, Gostkowski has made 84.3 percent of his field-goal attempts and missed one of 231 extra-point tries. This season, he made 10 of 13 field-goal tries and all 26 extra points.
Graham’s field-goal accuracy is even better, 85.2 percent. That’s the fifth-best in league history, and he’s missed just three of 283 extra points in one year with Buffalo, one with Carolina and seven with Cincinnati. He also missed only four of 71 field-goal tries from inside the 30-yard line during regular-season games.
But he failed on both his attempts in last season’s 24-14 playoff loss to the New York Jets, from 28 and 35 yards, and left Cincinnati as a free agent.
“There’s always going to be speed bumps and you can control what you can control,” Graham said. “My job is to play and I don’t make the decisions as far as rosters.”
He signed with the Ravens but was beaten out by Billy Cundiff and released on Sept. 4. He then played one game with the New York Giants, signing on Oct. 16 after Lawrence Tynes sprained his left ankle in practice. Graham made four extra points but didn’t try a field goal in a 28-20 win over Detroit and was released the next day.
While jobless, he practiced kicking at his college, Virginia Tech, and on soccer fields at another nearby college.
“Really kicked anywhere,” Graham said. “I would have two or three bags of footballs and have one to pull out whenever I was ready to go. Kept one in the car. Kept my bags packed in the car in case I got a call.
“In fact, when I played for the Giants I was called on a Friday evening and flew there and played on Sunday. So I kept bags in my car ready for an overnight and I kept a bag for a long-term trip, too.”
His visit may be longer than he thought when the Patriots, who worked him out last month, summoned him on Monday before Gostkowski’s season officially ended.
Gostkowski’s career with the Patriots should continue once he recovers and Graham would have to pack again.
“I have a lot of respect for him and he’s been really good to me,” Graham said. “So I know when his time’s up and he’s healthy he’ll be the guy and I’ll be looking to make the best of my opportunities from this point on, too.”
He’s already worked with the Patriots’ new long snapper while trying out for the Ravens. Katula handled that job for five seasons in Baltimore before being waived on Aug. 14.