FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – One game into the New England Patriots preseason schedule and coach Bill Belichick is no closer to choosing a replacement for former kicker Adam Vinatieri.

Neither Martin Gramatica nor Stephen Gostkowski distanced themselves from the other in the Patriots’ 26-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Friday night.

Gramatica, who signed as a free agent in the offseason, kicked field goals of 26 and 30 yards, while Gostkowski connected on a 34-yarder. Neither missed.

The kickers rotated in and out, with Gostkowski delivering the opening kickoff and Gramatica getting the call for a field goal with 2:40 left in the game and the Patriots trailing 23-20.

“I thought they both did a pretty good job,” Belichick said in a conference call Saturday.

Conditions were ideal in the Georgia Dome for both kickers and neither faltered. Belichick said he expects a winner to emerge when the Patriots play in outdoor stadiums and non-ideal conditions for the remainder of their preseason schedule.

“The more competition you see, the more opportunities they have, the more clearer it becomes,” Belichick said.

Gramatica, an eight-year veteran who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003 and was a Pro Bowler following the 2000 season, has a career field-goal percentage of 76.5 percent, but sat out last season.

Gostkowski, a fourth-round draft choice out of Memphis where he made 22-of-25 field goals as a senior, has been a pleasant surprise in camp.

Whoever wins out will have a hard time replacing Vinatieri, who booted 18 game-winning kicks in the final minute or overtime – including two to win Super Bowls – during his 10-year career with New England before signing with Indianapolis in the offseason.

One rookie who did distinguish himself on Friday was first-round draft pick Laurence Maroney.

Maroney, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound running back out of Minnesota, entered the game during the Patriots first drive and promptly ran 12 yards on his first carry. His second carry went for 27 yards up the middle, and he finished with 66 yards on nine carries before sitting out the second half.

Though Maroney’s speed and cutback ability has been on display during training camp, Belichick said he was impressed that the rookie was able to duplicate those skills in his first taste of NFL action.

“I think with a running back and anybody else that carries the ball, their ability to carry the ball after first contact is hard to evaluate during practice,” Belichick said. “I thought Laurence did some good things, but I think there’s a lot of things he still needs to work on and can do better.”

Maroney’s cutback style could complement veteran Corey Dillon’s straight-head approach to form a dynamic tandem. Dillon, who finished an injury-plagued 2005 season with 733 rushing yards, ran for 27 yards on five carries Friday.

The two backs combined for 66 yards on New England’s opening drive, which ended with Gramatica’s field goal after Reche Caldwell dropped a pass in the end zone.

“I hope that we have good depth and ability to be productive at (running back),” Belichick said. “I think all of our backs have shown that they can be productive.”

Though Maroney returned kicks at Minnesota, he didn’t get an opportunity to show what he could do on special teams Friday. Instead, rookie Willie Andrews handled most of the return duties, averaging 16 yards on two punt returns and 21 yards on three kickoff returns.

“I thought he did a good job of running well, there’s no doubt about that,” Belichick said. “I think the real key for all the young players now is not how much they did in this game, but how much they can improve next week now that they’ve seen game conditions.”

The Patriots also re-signed rookie defensive back Gemara Williams on Saturday.


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