New England Patriots Position-by-Position Wrap-Up: Special Teams
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The Patriots spike the ball with four seconds left in the Super Bowl. Down by two, New England brings in the field goal unit. This game will come down to the foot of Stephen Gostkowski. The 47-yard attempt is up…and…no good! No good! The Patriots lose the Super Bowl!
And Bill Belichick wakes up in a cold sweat. Welcome to his nightmare.
Make that his third nightmare, considering the manner New England lost Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. To be called a defensive genius and to watch helplessly as his defense gave up game-winning drives to the New York Giants definitely bruised Belichick’s psyche.
Another embarrassing manner of defeat would be failing because of special teams. New England won three championships because their execution in the third phase was flawless.
At times in 2012, Gostkowski looked like the weak link. From Week 2 to Week 4 Gostkowski was 8-of-11, including missing a game-winning 42-yard field goal against Arizona and an embarrassing 1-of-3 in Buffalo against the Bills (he missed from 49 and 42 yards).
Going 20-of-22 in the final 12 games is a strong finish, but connecting on just 69 percent on attempts from 30-39 yards is below the league’s average.
Gostkowski still plays in the shadow of Adam Vinatieri and will remain there until Gostkowski has a signature kick. The opportunities for game-winning kicks have been few for Gostkowski, and he blew it against the Cardinals. But Gostkowski missed just twice in games where the margin of victory was seven points or less (23-of-25).
82.9 percent is Gostkowski’s second-lowest field-goal percentage in his career, but not low enough to be a concern. Barring an injury, Gostkowski should continue his steady play.
Special teams as a whole was solid in 2012. Punt-return average (12 yards per return) was fifth in the NFL with a touchdown. Coverage units, led by two-time Pro Bowler Matthew Slater and the emerging Nate Ebner, both were third in the NFL. And long snapper Danny Aiken straightened out his preseason snaps and had an error-free regular season and playoffs.
Zoltan Mesko didn’t have a great average, but he placed 28 punts inside the 20.
The one glaring weakness is kickoff returns, as New England’s 21.2 average was 25th in the league. New England is hoping Jeff Demps can fix that problem. Demps averaged 28.8 yards per kickoff return while at the University of Florida.
It’s possible that Demps could be a good punt returner as well. Julian Edelman was great in 2012 with a 15.5 average and a touchdown, but Edelman is a free agent. His return could be based on New England’s confidence in Demps as a returner.
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