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Patriots Positional Playoff Preview: Special teams

01.09.13 at 3:11 pm ET
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With the postseason underway, we’€™ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a week-long, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We’€™ve broken things down on both sides of the ball. Now, it’€™s a chance to take a look at special teams:

Depth chart (stats based on coaches film review): Kicker Stephen Gostkowski (29-for-35 on field goals, 66-for-66 on extra points, 52 touchbacks on 112 kickoffs), punter Zoltan Mesko (60 punts, 43.1 average, 28 inside the 20), punt returner Wes Welker (25 returns, 243 yards, 9.7 average), kick returner Devin McCourty (27 returns, 654 yards, 24.2 average, 1 TD), long snapper Danny Aiken, special teamers Matthew Slater (20 special teams tackles), Nate Ebner (17 special teams tackles), linebacker Mike Rivera (12 special teams tackles).

Overview: It’€™s been an up-and-down year for the Patriots special teamers. After a long draught, New England got a punt return (from Julian Edelman against the Colts) and kick return (by McCourty against the Jets). There’€™s also the continued excellence of Slater, who is a tremendously disruptive force for opposing teams to have to deal with on a weekly basis. (Seriously, invest the $70 in NFL Game Rewind and watch the coaches’€™ film of his work. No surprise he was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl.)

There were also some struggles, particularly early in the season by Gostkowski, who missed what would have been a likely game-winner against the Cards, and missed a pair against the Bills. He seemed to right the ship late in the season — he’€™s made eight of his last nine field goals over the last five weeks of the regular season, including three from 40-plus yards.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots use their returners in the postseason. Since Edelman went down with a season-ending injury, they have utilized a handful of different players, but have appeared to settle on Welker as a punt returner and McCourty as a kick returner.

Best Moment: Three immediately stick out: the fumble which was returned for a touchdown by Edelman in the Thanksgiving Night massacre of the Jets, Edelman’€™s 68-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Colts, and McCourty’€™s 104-yard kick return for a touchdown in the home with over the Jets.

Worst Moment: Gostkowski’€™s 42-yard field-goal attempt late in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals ended up being the difference in a shocking September loss to Arizona. In the same game, Mesko had a blocked punt, which the Cardinals quickly turned into a touchdown.

By the numbers: Gostkowski’€™s 153 points is a career-high.

Money quote: ‘€œIt’€™s been a blast; I’€™ve had a lot of fun with these guys this year. It’€™s a group that takes a lot of pride in what we do and we have a lot of fun doing it. I think there’€™s a good combination of veteran guys with experience and young guys that are willing and eager and understand this is how they’€™re going to make their bones in this league and they’€™ve embraced their role. Overall, it’€™s been one of the most fun seasons I’€™ve had as a part of this team. Hopefully we can keep it going.’€ — Slater on working with this year’€™s special teamers.

Read More: 2013 playoffs, positional playoff preview,
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