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."

Perry: Can finally put a face to Patriots draft punishment

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Perry: Can finally put a face to Patriots draft punishment

Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran discuss the New England Patriots losing their first-round pick, and how they can finally put a face to the punishment and see which player they could've drafted.

Stevens: Thomas, C's must make right play, not force shots

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Stevens: Thomas, C's must make right play, not force shots

BOSTON - Isaiah Thomas is good to go for Game 6, though it's yet to be determined how much the ankle will affect him.

Either way, he can expect much of the focus to be on him throughout the game, as it has been for the entire series.

In Game 5 specifically, though, the Hawks stopped Thomas in a way they haven't been able to all series. The result? Just seven points for the C's leading scorer. They brought the double-team, and sometimes even the triple-team, making him unable to score.

But though Thomas' main objective is to score, as the starting point guard he's needed to do much more than that.

"You just have to make the right basketball play," Stevens said when asked if Thomas needs to be more aggressive when he's trapped. "He’s going to have the ball a ton for us, he’s going to be off the ball on actions for us, he’s going to have to read when he should screen, he’s going to have to read when he gets the ball how he’s being played, and just make the right basketball play.

"There’s certainly things you can do to alleviate some of that. But I felt we attacked it really well at the start of the game. Certainly part of their scoring runs was some bad offense on our part in the latter parts of the game. I left thinking Isaiah made a lot of the right basketball plays. That’s his charge – he has to do that, and we’ll follow suit."

Following suit with making the right decision - and hitting the shot - is something the C's couldn't do much of in Game 5. If Boston wants its playoff run to continue, it's going to have to be a team effort.

"We just have to make the right read, whether it’s catch and shoot or whether it’s catch and rip and drive," Stevens said. "Somebody else gets in the paint and makes the right read, and that’s part of it. We have good players who can do that, I believe they can and Isaiah does too. But Isaiah can’t force. If they’re going to put two to the ball, that’s when you have to make the right basketball play."