FOXBORO — Usually very expansive when talking about the Patriots’ special teams, Matt Slater was fairly brief Monday afternoon when asked about the work of the kick coverage unit against the Texans in Sunday’s AFC divisional playoff game.
‘We’ve got to get better,’ the Patriots’ special teams captain said on Monday.
‘There were several breakdowns,’ Slater added. When asked if the breakdowns were the result of poor execution or missed assignments, Slater said. ‘Both. I think a little bit of both.’
In the game, Houston’s Danieal Manning had four returns for a total of 216 yards, including returns of 94, 35 and 69 yards. New England was one of the best teams in the league in the regular season when it came to kick coverage — teams averaged 20.5 yards per return against the Patriots, third in the league. But Manning was able to shred New England, averaging 54 yards per return.
‘Overall, our kickoff coverage this year has been one of the best things we’ve done all year. We’re right at the top of the league in kickoff coverage,’ Patriots coach Bill Belichick  said. ‘We didn’t have a good play in the San Francisco game and then we had three bad plays [Sunday], but overall, that’s been probably as consistent as anything we’ve done as a football team for the entire season.
‘Of course it’s disappointing. Those are plays that you don’t want to happen; certainly not three of them in one game. That’s not what we want. That’s not good enough. It has to be better.’
It’s not the kind of thing you want to see from your coverage units heading into Sunday’s AFC title game against a Baltimore team that features Pro Bowl  kick returner Jacoby Jones , part of a group that averaged 27.3 yards per kick return in the regular season. The Ravens were the only team in the NFL two return two kicks for touchdowns on the season.
‘We face good returners every week,’ Belichick said. ‘Every team has a good returner; it’s the National Football League . Just like every team has good runners and good receivers and good passes and good everything; it’s the National Football League.
‘We have to do a better job than what we did. It starts with me — better coaching, better playing — we just have to do a better job. We’ve done a good job there pretty much all year — as good as anybody in the league has — but it wasn’t anywhere near our standard or where it needs to be yesterday. It’s always a huge point of emphasis for us, but it will continue to be. [You] just can’t put a team in that kind of field position consistently and that’s what we did.’
How can it be fixed?
‘You go back to the basics,’ Slater said. ‘Go back to the fundamentals and the rules that we have as coverage players. Doing our jobs better; doing our assignments better. It’s been a strength for us this season, kickoff coverage, and I’m confident that we’ll get it fixed.’