Patriots take pride in special teams work

947575.jpg

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."

Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings: So long, Wings' streak

washington-capitals-2-25-17.jpg

Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings: So long, Wings' streak

The Washington Capitals remain on top, but it's time to recognize the Red Wings' 25-year playoff streak that will come to an end this spring.

Red Sox rally for 8-7 spring training victory over Twins

Red Sox rally for 8-7 spring training victory over Twins

Brian Bogusevic's RBI single in the eighth inning gave the Red Sox a come-from-behind, 8-7, spring training victory over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday in Fort Myers, Fla.

Bogusevic, 32, an outfielder signed to a minor league deal this winter, played in Japan last season and hasn't been in the major leagues since 2015 with the Phillies.

Reliever Tyler Thornburg, acquired in the offseason trade that sent Travis Shaw to the Milwaukee Brewers, had a rough outing in his Red Sox debut. He allowed five runs (four earned), four hits and a walk in 2/3 of an inning as the Red Sox fell behind 7-3 by the fourth inning.

Left-hander Roenis Elias started for Boston and allowed a first-inning home run to Byungho Park. He struck out three in two innings.

Mookie Betts went 2-for-3 with a double and first base prospect Sam Travis, hitting .500 this spring, tied it at 7 with an RBI double in the sixth.

Red Sox manager John Farrell said earlier Saturday that Eduardo Rodriguez is scheduled to make his first start on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays in Fort Myers and Chris Sale will make his first start March 6 against the Houston Astros in West Palm Beach. Rodriguez injured his knee in winter ball in Venezuela and threw his first batting practice session on Saturday.

The Red Sox next travel to Port Charlotte to play the Rays Sunday at 1:05 p.m.