Patriots take pride in special teams work

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Patriots take pride in special teams work

FOXBORO -- The importance of special teams play should not be judged by how often Bill Belichick is asked about it.

Many of the queries New England's head coach fields regard the sexy stuff: Headlining roster transactions, suspensions, fierce opponents, game-changing plays.

The thing is, Belichick values special teams so highly, he'd be more likely to talk about that than what player broke which rule on whatever day.

Which is exactly what he did Monday.

"I think that Scott OBrien and Joe Judge, our two special teams coaches, do a great job of coaching the players and taking the young guys and improving them and watching some of our younger guys perform for us in the kicking game, as well as some of our veteran players and just bringing it all together," Belichick said.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Zoltan Mesko, have done an excellent job this season with giving the Patriots optimal field position.

But that's not all.

"Of course, it always comes down to good execution by the specialists. Weve had production by the return game here in the second half of the season. Our coverage units have been pretty solid all year but anytime you can turn the ball over, those are huge plays."

The Patriots have had a few of those lately.

Two weeks ago against the Colts, Julian Edelman returned a punt for a touchdown. In this past Thursday's Thanksgiving night game New England forced a fumble on a Jets kick return, which Edelman recovered and ran back for six points.

Special teams captain Matthew Slater said the recent success doesn't have anything to do with his group doing anything differently in practice, with changing preparation. The usual hard work is just finally materializing on game day.

Slater is obviously thrilled. 

"I think those are huge momentum plays," he said of the scores. "When you look at a game, you're not counting on special teams to score every game -- it's just not realistic for that to happen. But when it does happen it brings a huge momentum swing to the game. In the case of the last two weeks it's been huge for us, as far as getting momentum going and allowing us to get some separation against our opponent."

Belichick believes New England's special teams cohesion is a credit to the captain.

"Matt Slater has done a great job as the captain of the special teams with his leadership and making it a total cohesive unit even though its six different units but its still more players on all of them. Hes doing a great job with that this year."

So maybe it's not the NFL's most glamorous role; Belichick knows it's an invaluable unit that's been paying dividends for the Patriots this season.

Good enough for his players.

"We're a very close-knit group of guys," Slater smiled. "We understand what our role is in this league, we understand how we're going to keep jobs in this league, and we take a lot of pride in what we do."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.