Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pats' special teams unit wants no repeat of last year


Coming off a first-round bye in the playoffs last season, the New England Patriots pulled the Houston Texans in the divisional round and pulled out a 41-28 win despite giving up nearly 250 yards on special teams.

New England's obviously looking for the same end-game result this year, but its special teams captain is hoping to avoid some of the theatrics along the way.

"I think we have to be able to up our focus and our sense of urgency knowing that if we make a positive play it can really help our team," wide receiver and captain Matthew Slater told reporters Thursday, via, "and if we have a situation where we're giving up plays that can hurt our team."

"You look at the way we played kickoff coverage last year against Houston, that was really disappointing. You want to avoid situations like that and hopefully continue to play well, like we have been all year."

The fun last year started quickly, with Slater's crew allowing a 94-yard return on the opening kickoff. They went on to give up a total of 230 yards in kick return yards -- though no touchdowns -- and another 17 yards on punts. And that was a squad that was ranked third in the regular season in average kick and punt return yards allowed.

In terms of personnel, not too much has changed since last year for New England's special teams. Slater, who made the Pro Bowl last season, will be there again this year, and the team is ranked sixth and ninth, respectively, in average yards allowed against kick and punt returns.

What will be a change, at least from the regular season to the postseason, will be the speed of the game, which Slater said is a hurdle for any player on the roster.

"Whether you are a rookie or a veteran, it doesn't matter," he said Wednesday. "It is an adjustment for all of us. All of us have to step up our game. All of us have to prepare a little bit more. It doesn't really matter if you've been there before or haven't been there before.

"It's a new team, new players and we just have to come out and try to be ready for what it's going to be like a couple weeks from now."

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