FOXBORO - Conversation about the Patriots' playoff prospects centers on two things. Whether the defense is championship caliber and whether the offense can avoid seizing up under heavy pressure. Virtually ignored? The special teams component. There's a credible reason for some of it. On kickoffs, the Patriots are a middling group statistically. On kickoff returns, they average a starting field position of 21.9. On coverage, their opponents' offenses take over at the 21.3. In the punting game, though, Zoltan Mesko is quietly having an outstanding season with a net average on punts of 40.8 yards (second in the AFC) and only two touchbacks on 42 punts. And on returns? Julian Edelman seems close to getting the knack for a job he is still a relative novice at. Edelman is averaging a respectable 12 yards on his 21 returns and he's only fair caught six punts. He's a bit of a panic back there, which may be part of the reason Wes Welker comes in to catch plus-50 punts. But he is also explosive and elusive. I caught up with Edelman in an otherwise deserted Patriots' locker room Monday to talk about his return progress. "Well, considering I dropped one this week, (not so good)," Edelman deadpanned. Aside from that? "You build the confidence in a week's practice," he explained. "You see that the (return) guys are holding their guys up and doing their job. You always like to think you can make someone miss. I guess there's a little confidence there but we didn't get to do it this week. Hopefully we can do it against the Redskins."Even though Edelman took back 21 punts last season and averaged a very impressive 15.3 yards per return, he is still a neophyte at the job. He didn't return until his final college game and only then because his coach was trying to showcase his versatility for NFL scouts. When I said the job takes guts, Edelman answered, "It's educated guts.There's a lot of study.Film study and taking punts to get the feel for the trajectory of the punt and what you have protected and if they're rushing and stuff. You usually know if you'll be able to return it or not (pretty early). Sometimes you take a risk and try to make someone miss and hope they overrun you."I mentioned to Edelman that I've seen him grab bouncing punts with coverage in close proximity. "I don't necessarily know if that's smart," he admitted. "Situationally, I have a lot to learn. I know when I do something wrong that I'm going to get yelled at when I get back to the sideline but sometimes you're competitiveness of wanting to make something happen wins out. But I have to get better at controlling that."Knowing how much Bill Belichick values special teams and how much he culls history for pertinent instruction, I asked Edelman if he's studied the great Cleveland Browns returner Eric Metcalf. "I've watched Metcalf. I've watched Steve Smith (from Carolina)," said Edelman. "I've watched a lot of the guys that Scotty O (special teams coach Scott O'Brien) has coached. Those guys not only were special athletically, they were situationally smart. They looked like professionals and as a punt returner you can tell if a guy knows what he's doing out there or not. That's something I have to get better at and hopefully we can put that together in this Redskins game."
NEW ORLEANS - Devonta Freeman practically wore out the Superdome turf with one long gain after another, Tevin Coleman wouldn't be denied near the goal line and the New Orleans Saints hardly looked like the team that made an emotional homecoming nearly 10 years ago to the day.
Cheers turned to boos, and many fans filed out early.
Coleman rushed for three touchdowns, Matt Ryan passed for two TDs and Deion Jones returned an interception 90 yards for a score to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the winless New Orleans Saints 45-32 on Monday night.
"It was real fun. Everybody was doing their job and everybody was playing for each other," Coleman said. "Everything clicked, and we got it done. It's a real big win for us to beat this team here."
The game coincided with New Orleans' celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Saints' memorable return to the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, 13 months after Hurricane Katrina. But there would be no reprise of New Orleans' dominant and emotional 23-3 triumph over Atlanta a decade ago.
The Saints' depleted defense struggled to slow Freeman, who rushed for 152 yards and caught five passes for 55 yards. Coleman also was effective in the passing game out of the backfield, with three receptions for 47 yards to go with his 42 yards rushing.
"We have to stop the run better," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "They were over 200 yards in situations where you knew the run was coming, even at the end of the game."
Ryan finished with 240 yards passing for Atlanta (2-1), which did not turn the ball over and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Drew Brees put up his usual big numbers - 376 yards and three TDs passing - and hit tight end Coby Fleener seven times for 109 yards and a TD. But Brees' tipped pass that resulted in Jones' TD return early in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 45-25 lead that proved too much for New Orleans to overcome.
BOSTON, Mass. – There’s a long way to go toward a complete resurrection from last season’s misdeeds, but Jimmy Hayes made a nice little statement that he’s learned some lessons in Boston’s preseason debut. The Bruins lost the game, 3-2, in the shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Hayes scored one of the two goals for the Black and Gold as one of the few veterans in a very youthful lineup for Boston.
The Hayes goal was a nice give-and-go with Jake DeBrusk at the end of a nice transition play in the second period, and was the highlight of a night playing on the right wing with DeBrusk and center Austin Czarnik. The score and a team-high four shots on net for Hayes represent a good start for what he hopes is a gigantic rebound season after last year’s disappointment.
Clearly Hayes heard some of the unflattering chatter about him on sports talk radio and otherwise last season, and may even understand how his difficult season in his home city of Boston -- whether he actively expressed it to him or not -- might have been a factor in his buddy Jimmy Vesey ultimately choosing New York over Boston.
It appears the former Boston College standout is looking to change the conversation in Boston.
“Yeah, sure am. I’ve got a lot to come out here and…[there were] a lot of comments about myself, but I know I’m a good player. I got to this level for a reason,” said Hayes, who dropped from 19 goals and 35 points with the Panthers to 13 goals, 29 points and a career-worst minus-12 for the Bruins last season.
“To be able to play at the NHL level and continue to play at that level on a consistent basis is what I expect out of myself. I do it for myself and our teammates, and to help our team win. I’ll continue moving forward.
“It’s funny being the old guy on the line. It’s nice to see those young guys and see how excited they are, and how excited I am to get back out there. That’s what I said to the guys, they still have the jitters and they still have them for the first preseason game. It shows that these guys want it and it’s been a lot of fun skating with those guys. They’ve got a lot of speed and to keep pushing the pace. Trying to keep up with them has been a lot of fun.”
There is still a long way to go for the 26-year-old winger, and his willingness to stick around the danger areas on Monday night was a welcomed one for a Bruins team that needs his 6-foot-6 body in front of the net. Hayes paid the price with stitches and a fat lip after taking a Dalton Prout high-stick to the mouth in front of the Columbus net that went uncalled on a Bruins PP at the end of the second period.
That’s all part of the big man’s game on the ice, however. It’s also the kind of battle and determined fight that Hayes will need to show much more consistently in his second season with the hometown Bruins if he’s truly looking to bounce-back from last year’s mediocre performance.