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Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Special teams

01.27.14 at 7:00 am ET
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With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We kick off the series with a look at the special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, kick returner LeGarrette Blount, punt returner Julian Edelman, long snapper Danny Aiken, coverage man Matthew Slater

Overview: It was a good year for the specialists. Gostkowski emerged as a legitimate Pro Bowler, ending the year with several clutch field goals, including game-winners to beat the Bills and Broncos and big late kicks against the Jets and Texans. He also successfully executed an onside kick in the dramatic win over the Browns. (He finished the year 35-of-38 on field-goal attempts, as well as 65 touchbacks.) Ryan Allen had a good rookie year as a punter and holder for Gostkowski, finishing the regular-season with 29 punts landing inside the 20 (good for 10th in the league) and a 45.9 average, good for 14th in the NFL. (He was also one of the best things about the Patriots in the AFC title game, dropping three first-half punts inside the 20 and doing his part to help tilt the field for New England in the early going.) Blount was slow to get started as a kick returner but he finished with a flourish — he had two returns in the regular-season finale against the Bills for 145 yards. Meanwhile, Edelman was one of the more consistent punt returners in the league all season — he was 12th in the league in average yards per return with 10.7. This year he also became one of the best punt returners in history, as his 12.3 career average is now tied for seventh on the all-time list. While there’€™s some question about the futures of Blount and Edelman — both are free agents — figure on Gostkowski, Allen and Aiken all coming back in 2014. While there were guys who drew an exemption because of *ahem* injury, it’€™s worth noting that special teams was the only area where the Patriots had two Pro Bowlers (Slater, Gostkowski).

Best moment: Blount’€™s 83-yard kick return in the regular-season finale against the Bills was probably the one that stands out the most, but you could also make a case for Gostkowski’€™s game-winners against the Broncos (in overtime) and Bills (in the regular-season opener), or his kick to force overtime against the Jets, as well as his career-best 54-yarder against the Saints. And while Edelman didn’€™t take one all the way back to the house this season, he did have a nifty 43-yard return against the Steelers in November, his longest of the year.

Worst moment: It wasn’€™t on one of the specialists, but the penalty at the end of the Oct. 20 game against the Jets when Chris Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on a late field goal attempt from Nick Folk likely was the worst moment of the year for the special teams. Regardless of what you might think of the penalty, it allowed the Jets an extra chance to win the game in the extra session, and they took advantage. One more — Gostkowski’€™s performance down the stretch in the loss to the Dolphins in Miami was also probably the roughest outing for him on the season. He missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter and also booted a kickoff out of bounds in the fourth quarter to help set up Miami with terrific field position on what would be its game-winning drive.

By the numbers: 229 – The number of points the Patriots received in the annual special teams rankings compiled by Dallas Morning News football writer Rick Gosselin. That was good enough to land New England at the top of the list. (Gosselin’€™s rankings, which are held in high regard by NFL front offices, are compiled by ranking all 32 teams in 22 categories and assigning points according to their standing — one for best, 32 for worst. For more on this year’€™s list, click here.)

Money quote: “Matt is one of the best in the league [at working as a gunner on punt coverage]. I think he has a lot of the qualities that we were talking about. Sure, any time they have to double somebody, that makes it one less guy they can use somewhere else in the return. He almost always draws two guys out there, unless they’€™re in an eight-man rush. Most of the time there’€™s two guys out there ‘€“ fourth-and-short, where they’€™re trying to protect the box ‘€“ but he draws a lot of double teams and deservedly so. He does an outstanding job of covering punts. As I said, it’€™s a tough position to play, but he’€™s got all the qualities that we talked about to be good. He does a good job for us.”€ — Bill Belichick on the work of special teams captain Matthew Slater

Read More: Julian Edelman, LeGarrette Blount, Matthew Slater, position-by-position breakdown
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