FOXBORO — The Patriots have always preached the value of special teams, and this year is no exception.
‘We really look at the special teams as being a third of the game,’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick  on a conference call Monday afternoon. ‘The field position part of it is huge, trying to start offensively on a shorter field or play defensively on a longer field, as well as taking advantage of our scoring opportunities on the field-goal team and making game-changing plays in the kicking game. That’s always one of our goals every week.’
Belichick said that it all starts with good field position, an area where the Patriots done well, thanks in large part to kicker Stephen Gostkowski  and punter Zoltan Mesko and the coverage units. According to Football Outsiders, through 11 games, New England’s opponents have averaged the worst average starting field position in the league (an average of the 23.18-yard line).
Meanwhile, the Patriots’ average drive has started on the 30.05-yard line, seventh-best in the league. (By way of comparison, the Giants  lead the league in starting field position, opening drives at the 31.27.)
‘Field position is huge ‘ trying to start offensively on a shorter field or trying to play defensively on a longer field, as well as taking advantage of our scoring opportunities on the field goal team and making plays, game changing plays in the kicking game, which is one of our goals every week,’ he said.
‘Statistically, that field position edge eventually comes into play, not necessarily on any individual series or possession, but over the long haul. We all know the importance of field position and scoring opportunities and making big plays in the kicking game.’
On Monday, Belichick lauded the work of his special teamers — as well as the two special teams coaches — for the role they have played over the course of New England’s recent five-game winning streak.
‘I think that Scott and Joe Judge, our two special-teams coaches, do a great job of coaching the players,’ he said. ‘Taking the young guys and improving them, watching some of our younger guys perform for us in the kicking game, as well as some of our veteran players, bringing it all together.’
That work has manifested itself throughout the course of the season with great field position, but it’s also shown up in the box score the last two games. Two weeks ago, Julian Edelman  had a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in a win over the Colts. Last Thursday, Edelman scored when Devin McCourty  forced a fumble off a kick return from New York’s Joe McKnight .
‘I think those are huge momentum plays,’ said special teams captain Matthew Slater . ‘When you look at a game, you’re not counting on special teams to score every game — it’s just not realistic for that to happen. But when it does happen, it brings a huge momentum swing to the game. In the case of the last two weeks it’s been huge for us, as far as getting momentum going and allowing us to get some separation against our opponent.’
While Slater isn’t the one scoring touchdowns, Belichick celebrated his hard work and ability to create some consistency among the special teamers.
‘Matt Slater has done a great job as the captain of the special teams with his leadership and making it a total cohesive unit even though it’s six different units but it’s still more players on all of them,’ Belichick said. ‘He’s doing a great job with that this year.’
‘We’re a very close-knit group of guys,’ said the 27-year-old Slater, who was named a Pro Bowler last year for his special teams skills. ‘We understand what our role is in this league, we understand how we’re going to keep jobs in this league, and we take a lot of pride in what we do.’