|Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Special teams||01.27.14 at 7:00 am ET|
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.
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
|Bill Belichick: ‘Possibility’ Patriots could travel to Denver on Friday||01.14.14 at 3:59 pm ET|
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said that the team could travel to Denver Friday instead of Saturday for this weekend’s AFC title game.
“Yeah, it’s a possibility,” Belichick said. “We’re working out our arrangements for the week here now.”
In the past, when faced with a trip to the West Coast, the Patriots have departed early. The time change adds an interesting wrinkle to this game — it will mark only the second game this year the Patriots will have played outside of the eastern time zone.
Belichick also addressed a handful of other topics in his Q&A with the media, including the health of punter Ryan Allen. The rookie left Saturday’s divisional playoff game against the Colts because of an injury, and Stephen Gostkowski worked in relief of Allen. Belichick said they would have an update on Allen when the Wednesday practice report is released, but added that signing a punter on Friday and having him work Sunday is a possibility, as well as the chance that Gostkowski could work as the punter again against the Broncos.
“Sure, both those things are possible,” Belichick said.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Report: Ryan Allen gets MRI on right shoulder||01.12.14 at 2:44 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots might find out soon if Stephen Gostkowski or someone else might have to take the place of punter Ryan Allen in the AFC championship.
The dinged up punter is scheduled to undergo testing on his right shoulder on Sunday, a league source tells Nick Underhill of MassLive.com.
Allen was injured during the second quarter of Saturday’s 43-22 win over the Colts when trying to get on top of a bad snap from Danny Aiken and was tackled at his own goal line. He punted following the safety and then left the game. Allen was spotted on the sideline clutching his right shoulder and consulted with Patriots team doctor Tom Gill, a shoulder specialist.
The concern is that Allen might have sprained his acromioclavicular (AC) joint in the shoulder. If the MRI confirms the diagnosis, healing can take as little as two weeks or as many as six, depending on the severity.
If the MRI reveals a less severe injury, Allen could be cleared next week since he is a punter. Any other player would likely be done for the season, a medical source tells WEEI.com.
Allen, in his first season out of Louisiana Tech, was having a solid rookie season, averaging 45.9 yards punt during the regular season, with a 39.9 net average.
Allen had one punt of 55 yards Saturday night before getting injured on his second punt of the night. Gostkowski punted the rest of the night quite ably. He punted five times for an average of 41.8 yards, including a net of 36.6 yards and a long of 53 yards on his first punt of the night.
Ryan Allen is undergoing an MRI today at 3. Initial thought is possible sprain of AC joint, per a league source.
— Nick Underhill (@Nick_Underhill) January 12, 2014
|Ryan Allen misses second half with shoulder injury, Stephen Gostkowski fills in effectively||at 1:14 am ET|
FOXBORO — With the Patriots holding a 21-10 lead with 2:18 remaining in the first half the Patriots were set to punt at midfield when long-snapper Danny Aiken‘s snap went over the head of punter Ryan Allen and all hell broke loose.
The ball sailed all the way back inside the Patriots five-yard line and when the rookie punter scooped up the loose ball he tried to make a play by lateraling the ball, but it went out of the end zone resulting in a safety and Allen taking a bone-crunching hit by a few Colts special teamers.
Allen punted the ensuing free kick, but then held onto his shoulder walking off the field. After some medical attention on the sideline he retreated to the locker room and did not return with what the team called a shoulder injury. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski took over as punter and Tom Brady as the place-holder.
“Ryan was getting checked out after the safety punt and he went in to see the doctors and they said you’re up,” Gostkowski said. “I didn’t really panic and when everyone else around you can stay calm it makes it easier for you to stay calm.”
Even though it was Gostkowski’s first time punting in a game at any level over the course of his career, even back to high school, you wouldn’t have known it as of his five punts two went inside the 20-yard line and he averaged 41.8 yards per kick, including a long of 53.
“I can never prepare for something like that, it’s just something that happened,” Gostkowski said. “It’s unfortunate that Ryan couldn’t return. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and hopefully he’s OK. He’s done such a great job this year and just an unfortunate set of circumstances that I was lucky enough to do a good job and help the team win. It’s hard to have too much fun when my compadre was sidelined with an injury, but it’s about as fun as I can have with not kicking field goals.”
Losing their punter and holder in the middle of a playoff game could have been deadly for the Patriots, but their ability to remain calm in a situation like that was one of their keys to victory Saturday night.
“It’s a lot different,” Gostkowski said of punting instead of place-kicking. “I was really worried about just catching it and getting it off. That was the first time I’ve ever punted in a game in my life so it was a challenge and luckily I didn’t let it get me nervous. I felt comfortable out there, I don’t know how. I think getting off a good first punt helped too and I just didn’t try to do too much.”
Allen had a very impressive rookie season averaging 44.5 yards per punt and pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line 28 times.
If Allen is unable to play in next week’s AFC Championship the Patriots will need to sign a punter.
|Stephen Gostkowski is still waiting for that special Adam Vinatieri playoff ‘moment’||01.09.14 at 6:30 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s no secret that kickers live in their own little world and usually only show themselves when the pressure is on.
Stephen Gostkowski gave a little insight to his world and what he might be thinking should Saturday night’s playoff game against the Colts come down to his right foot.
“I just go into a game trying to make a kick,” Gostkowski said. “The times that I’ve gotten into situations where it’s in the fourth quarter, it’s a kick that you know if you don’t make it, you’re not going to necessarily get another opportunity, I try to just treat it like any other kick. I’ve made kicks, I’ve missed kicks and I’m still here. I just try to take each kick one kick at a time.
“There could be a kick that I make in the first quarter and we could end up winning by three. So me just sitting there and worrying about a kick at the end of the game I feel like would do a disservice to the other kicks. Each game is different and each mentality is different. I remember my first couple years, you’re just waiting and waiting and waiting for that moment. But you have no control over it. All you can do I prepare yourself to be ready for that moment. We’ve had a lot of them this year and hopefully we can take the same approach and have the same success we’ve had if we get into that situation.
TV crews love to show kickers on the sidelines late in close games. What is thinking when the camera is on him and does he visualize the mental aspect of every kick while getting ready?
“Yeah, you do little things like I’ll watch a five minute cut-up of some big kicks that I’ve made to a song that I like,” he said. “Just like little visual things and then when I’m on the sideline I’ll sing that song and then in my head I see the ball going through the uprights.
“Sometimes there are days you don’t feel good or things haven’t been going well and you might have in your mind, ‘Don’t miss this kick.’ But then when it’s going good, you go out there, ‘I’m going to make it.’ It’s just that difference between confidence and cockiness, just going out there to make the kick instead of to not miss. Mentally to me that’s a big difference. I always just try to visualize myself doing well and not getting overexcited or too hyped up in the moment.
“Most of those guys are banging heads. I’m trying to like listen to Enya before the game to calm myself down. All I do is just try to ‘ the worst thing you can do in situations where, for me personally, where the situation gets bigger is get too excited. You have to try to slow your heart rate down, turn that nervousness and tightness into focus and if you just try to do that and do what you do on every other kick then most of the time you’ll be successful. That’s just the approach that I take.”
Gostkowski, who later clarified that he does not listen to nor sing Enya songs on the sideline – is yet to have that definitive moment that Adam Vinatieri enjoyed three times in the 2001 playoffs, including the game-winner in Super Bowl XXXVI. Vinatieri also won Super Bowl XXXVIII with a last-second field goal.
He will, of course, be going against Vinatieri on Saturday night in a matter of speaking as the Colts come calling to Gillette Stadium.
“Most kickers and punters and snappers are pretty cordial with each other throughout the year,” Gostkowski said Thursday when asked about his predecessor. “You kind of pull for each other when you’re not playing [against] each other kind of thing. Most guys have respect for each other because some guy who is knocking heads every play is not going to have as much respect for what we do as other guys that go through what we do on a day-to-day basis.
“You always have a fond respect for a guy that there’s only 31 other in the league. He’s the best of the best. As far as does it matter that he’s playing? It doesn’t matter. Unless he’s trying to come block the kick or he’s going to be back there returning it, it’s just another game.”
Does Gostkowski see himself lasting till he’s 41, like Vinatieri?
“I don’t know, man. I’m just trying to make it to the next game,” Gostkowski said. “Whatever I do is bonus. I had no idea I would even be in the NFL, let alone play eight years. A short-term goal is 10 [years]. This is all bonus. Here we focus on a day-to-day kind of thing. If I were to get the chance to do that, that would be great.
“The guys that have been good, like Gary Anderson, Morten Andersen, a lot of guys that kicked well into their later careers, John Carney. You hear stories about, I remember Junior Seau told me John Carney was the most in-shape guy he’s ever been around. I was like, ‘No, get out of here.’ This is Junior Seau, one of the best linebackers of all-time, he said he’s a good buddy. You hear stories about Adam working out and being in shape,” Gostkowski said. “As long as he’s out there producing, there’s no reason. Age is just a number. If he feels good and it looks like he’s doing good then more power to him.”
|Stephen Gostkowski’s record-breaking season could pay dividends in postseason||12.29.13 at 10:09 pm ET|
FOXBORO — A pattern has been established. A startling 11 of the 16 games the Patriots played this season were decided by one possession, and there’s no reason to expect that the playoffs should be any different as the intensity of contests ramps up. In close games, there are few positions that are more important than the place-kicker, and the Patriots have a pretty good one in Stephen Gostkowski.
Gostkowski proved just how valuable he could be come the playoffs in Sunday’s 34-20 win over the Bills. Amidst a driving rain storm at Gillette Stadium, the eighth-year kicker booted four field goals, tying a career-high, and three came from 35 yards or more. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, the 29-year-old didn’t let them affect him.
“It doesn’t get much tougher than that, as far as rain goes,” said Gostkowski. “I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of something that sloppy, but when it’s like that you’ve just got to increase your focus and increase how you go about things. You’ve got to slow things down a little bit and just make sure everything goes smoothly. [Long-snapper] Danny [Aiken] and [holder] Ryan [Allen] did a great job.
“One thing that stinks about playing here, but also that’s good is we practice outside everyday, no matter what it is. You complain and gripe when it’s 35 degrees outside and it’s raining or snowing or really windy. It pays off though. The coaches know what they’re doing when they put us out there for games like this.”
Sunday’s regular season finale put a cap on an outstanding season for the kicker, who was voted an AFC starter for the Pro Bowl late last week. His 29-yard field goal at the end of the first half gave him 37 on the year, besting his franchise record of 36 set in 2008. He finished the year with 38. He also broke Gino Cappelletti‘s Patriots record for most points in a season as he finished the year with 158, topping Cappelletti’s 155 in 1964. The 158 points led the league in scoring and Gostkowski is now just one of five players in league history to lead the league in scoring for at least three seasons (he also led the league in scoring in 2008 and 2012).
|Five things you have to know about the Ravens||12.17.13 at 7:15 pm ET|
The Patriots will try to close out the AFC East and put a major dent in the playoff hopes of the Ravens when they travel to Baltimore for a Sunday afternoon contest. Here are five things you have to know about the Ravens.
1. They almost always do a really good job at defending Tom Brady.
Old warhorses like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are no longer around, but the Ravens remain are as stout as they come defensively. There are some questions about their ability to close defensively — they’ve allowed 96 points in the fourth quarter this season, the most of any AFC team still in the playoff chase — but there’s still a lot to like about what they’re doing. They’re in the top 10 when it comes to total defense (334 yards per game allowed, ninth-best in the league), run defense (102.4 rush yards per game allowed, seventh-best in the league) and points per game allowed (19.8 per game, seventh-best in the league). They are one team that consistently makes things difficult for Brady, who is 2-3 against them in his last five games. Over the course of his career, the quarterback averages 57 percent when it comes to his completion rate, and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 8-10 in his career against Baltimore. (According to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, the Ravens have held Brady under 6.8 YPA in six of eight career meetings.) With New England facing a dicey situation when it comes to offensive line depth, particular at tackle, the pressure off the edges will be a concern — old friend Terrell Suggs (9 sacks) figures to have something to say about this one before the week is done, and Elvis Dumervil (9.5 sacks) should also be a handful for the Patriots offensive line.
2. They have almost as much experience playing close games this season as the Patriots.
When the Patriots and Ravens meet Sunday, chances are good that it’ll be a close game. Eleven of the 14 games New England has played this year have been decided by seven points or less, while Baltimore has played in 10 games decided by seven points or less. The Ravens have gone 5-5 in their games decided by a touchdown or less, while the Patriots are 7-4. Baltimore has won their last three games by a total of seven points, which includes Monday’s win over the Lions, a contest that wasn’t decided until Justin Tucker connected on his sixth field goal of the night, a 61-yarder than lifted the Ravens to an 18-16 win. All that comes against a backdrop of almost nothing but close games between these two teams — since 2004, five of the eight games between Patriots and Ravens have been decided by six points or less. Expect another close one come Sunday afternoon.
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