Patriots' Mesko gets his kicks from working hard

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Patriots' Mesko gets his kicks from working hard

FOXBORO -- Attend a Patriots training camp session and you'll see various bits of football activity scattered all over the fields. In one spot, there are linebackers and running backs clashing in blitz pickup drills; in another, receivers battling defensive backs in 1-on-1s.

But with one guy, it's sometimes hard to tell what you're looking at.

Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko promises his work is important, no matter how simple it all looks.

"It's a lot of drills, a lot of fundamentals," he said. "But you have to be able to do the boring stuff to be able to enjoy the not-boring stuff, which is winning -- performing well."

He's at it from 7 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m., just like those glamorous receivers and quarterbacks. A lot of the time is spent in meetings, getting the mind refocused on football. And then he runs out, usually the first, for practice.

Mesko laughs to think of how it must look, the quartet of specialists spending so much time alone while the rest of the team draws the crowd's cheers with hard-hitting action.

"Not a lot of drills make sense," he said. "If you were to go out to see maybe track and field, like a javelin thrower or a hammer thrower, you're like, 'What's he doing?' because you're not familiar with the position. It's not in the spotlight all the time."

So what is he doing?

"I would say 90 percent of a punt is dictated by your drop, so I practice my drop a lot," he said. "And it doesn't take a lot of effort out of me to practice my drop, it's more of a skill than anything. But even if people tell you, 'Oh you're so smart, you're so smart,' it's the discipline to put in the hard work to overcome that boredom in the drills."

Yes, the punter has to stay competitive.

Mesko's spot on the team is secure; his 41.5 net average was best in the AFC and third-best in the league last year. His 46.5 overall average set a Patriots record.

But there are lots of punters looking for work, and they prey upon complacency.

"I want to be able to surpass that goal of beating the competition" he said. "There's so much competition. Because even if it's not direct, it's out there -- I just can't see it. There's so many free agents out there that want my position."

It's not fear as much as it's the recognition of reality. And Mesko knows what to do with it.

"You can take all these rah-rah speeches from all the coaches and psychiatric doctors, and read all the self-help books you can, but at the end of the day it comes from how you motivate yourself," he said. "I've had a good start in motivating myself in where I've come from in Romania, and living through what I've lived through to make the best life for myself.

Mesko grew up in Timisoara, the town that birthed 1989's Romanian Revolution. His earliest years coincided with the violence that overturned the country's Communist government. In 1997, his parents finally found a way out via America's green-card lottery.

Mesko was 10 when the trio landed in the U.S.

"There's no other formula that I look to besides hard work," he said. Then, after a thoughtful pause, he added: "Even though I've been given so much."

He's always had drive.

"I was always in love with competition, with winning," he said. "It's always been instilled in me, ever since playing soccer in the parking lots in Europe. You take off your sandals or the shirt off your back and you play 'til the night falls and your mom is screaming at you to get in the house at 11 p.m."

Mesko's father took him to professional sporting events, to soccer games especially. That's when he noticed something -- athletes were admired for their efforts. The better the talent and grind, the better they were appreciated.

He was attracted to the idea.

Now he's living it.

In the months following his sophomore season, the Patriots punter went to charity events, golf tournaments, Loudon's Sprint Cup race. He traveled. Somehow, he still considers himself a 'Joe Schmoe,' checking himself at every chance. But there's no missing the positive correlation between the success he's had and the work he's done. Even if the toil doesn't look typical.

"I love it," he says. "I love this job and I love what it allows me to do. It's cool that through hard work, things like this can be achieved."

Tomlin calls Patriots 'a--holes' in speech Antonio Brown posts on Facebook

Tomlin calls Patriots 'a--holes' in speech Antonio Brown posts on Facebook

Showing a knee-buckling lack of self-awareness, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown put up 13:35 of footage on Facebook Live after his team’s 18-16 win over Kansas City on Sunday night.

It was a weird betrayal of the team’s privacy by one of its star players. Brown, allowed viewers to see live (and on tape until it’s inevitably taken down) that, while head coach Mike Tomlin was around a bank of lockers addressing what Tomlin presumed was his entire team, Brown was mugging in front of his phone for a growing online audience.

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The video starts with Brown and teammates having fun in front of their lockers. As the team is called together for a postgame prayer, Brown keeps the camera rolling. After the prayer, Tomlin made a statement.

“When you get to this point in the journey, not a lot needs to be said,” said Tomlin. “Let’s say very little moving forward. Let’s start our preparations. We spotted those a******* a day and a half. They played yesterday. Our game got moved to tonight. We gonna touch down at 4 o’clock in the f****** morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for that ass. But you ain’t gotta tell them we coming. Because some of us might not like the damn (woofkisses?) The chest pounding.  Keep a low profile.”

While Tomlin was issuing that low-profile request, Brown rolled on. Another Steeler then spoke up saying, “Keep cool on social media, this is about us, nobody else.”

Finally, what sounded like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger addressed the team saying of Foxboro, “That’s a lion’s den we’re going into this week. It’s a lion’s den. I’ve been there, a lot of us have been there. Keep your mouth shut.”

While people might fan themselves over Tomlin calling the Patriots a*******, that’s benign and likely will be matched in private by Patriots coaches this week.

What’s staggering is that a player of Brown’s ability and seeming intelligence would be so self-absorbed as to be agog at putting on a video show for Facebook followers at the expense of his coaches, teammates and franchise.  

Curran: Steelers' ongoing red-zone issues evident in win over Chiefs

Curran: Steelers' ongoing red-zone issues evident in win over Chiefs

For the third time in the Belichick-Brady Era, the Patriots will be trying to step over the Steelers to get to a Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh went into Kansas City on Sunday night and outlasted a breathtakingly sluggish Chiefs team, 18-16.

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If you spent the day stewing about the Patriots adequate-against-Osweiler-but-probably-nobody-else offensive performance Saturday night, maybe Sunday night calmed your nerves.

Despite having a more than 2-to-1 edge in total yards entering the fourth, Pittsburgh had managed just six field goals from kicker Chris Boswell. Their best chance at getting six on the board was squelched when Ben Roethlisberger got picked at the goal line in the first half.

That Kansas City was even in the game with a chance to tie it in the final three minutes has to be humbling for the Steelers. They dominated every statistical category of consequence while the Chiefs played aimlessly behind Alex Smith, who may be a cut above Brock Osweiler but is definitely a cut below every other quarterback in the Divisional Playoff round.  

On this night, Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t much better.

Still, Pittsburgh’s got the best 1-2 punch in the NFL at running back and receiver – LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown were both at 101 yards after halftime – and New England’s entire defensive game plan will revolve around corralling those two and getting them horizontal.

The Patriots beat a Roethlisberger-less team in October, 27-16. Landry Jones was at quarterback that day.

The Steelers were in the Patriots’ red zone four times. They came away with 10 points. They were inside the Patriots’ 40 six times and finished with 16.

“In an offense like that with a bunch of very explosive players, one slant can turn into a touchdown so you have to be really careful in your coverages,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich told me after that game. "There’s not just one go-to guy. They got a running back that can catch it out of the backfield and make plays (Le’Veon Bell). [Antonio Brown] can catch it anywhere on the field and make plays. You just have to make sure with a guy like [Landry Jones] to have him make the throws. It’s hard in this league to be perfect. So to have him sit back there and try to make all the throws was what we chose and the secondary did a great job.”

Bell and Brown combined for 268 yards from scrimmage against the Patriots.

The Steelers scored one touchdown.

The ever-dawdling Bell, who practically walks to the line of scrimmage then skips around like a little kid with a full bladder before finding a crease to exploit, is where it will start for the Patriots.

If the Patriots are going to go to their seventh Super Bowl since Belichick’s hire, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Donta Hightower and Elandon Roberts – their two best interior linemen and their two inside linebackers – will be the ones who start the bus. The overwhelming majority of Bell’s runs are between the guards so building a wall and out-patienting him as he probes for a crease is Job One.

The Chiefs weren’t stout enough at the line of scrimmage and Bell brutalized them. It will, of course, fall to more than just those four. Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Vincent Valentine and Shea McLellin will also be in focus. Run-support from safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty will be a part of it as well, but that’s where the Steelers become tough to deal with.

Once Bell’s established himself, the Steelers can start to work play-action and get Brown into space. Creep too far and the numbers on the back end could wind up being insufficient to deal with one of the NFL’s fastest players.

That’s why you can expect the Patriots to not overexert themselves with pressures and blitzes against Ben Roethlisberger. They’ll want as many back in coverage as possible to deal with Brown and some of the other Steelers speed merchants.

The Patriots have dealt with Pittsburgh’s defense enough to know where to attack. LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards on 24 carries in the first meeting and

Tom Brady went 19 for 26 for 222 with two touchdowns.

The Patriots had Gronk that day and the Steelers didn’t have Roethlisberger. That tips the scales some when measuring the differences. But after watching Pittsburgh kick six field goals and keep afloat an underperforming Chiefs team, the issue that dogged them in October – red zone offense – looks like its still around.

And they are going to visit a team that does that led the NFL in preventing points.