Some specialized instruction

Patriots boned up for a block party

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / October 6, 2010

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The day the Patriots made their final round of cuts in September, the list included a few guys who played key parts on the 2009 version of special teams.

The dismissed players included special teams captain Sam Aiken and Pierre Woods, who led the Patriots in special teams tackles in 2007 and 2009. After one season with the Patriots, special teams coach Scott O’Brien said during the preseason he had a better idea of the type of players who would work best with the unit. Based on Monday night’s performance in Miami, he must have found the right mix.

A blocked punt, a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, touchbacks by kicker Stephen Gostkowski, and a 103-yard kickoff return by Brandon Tate gave the Patriots an incredible swing of momentum in the second half of their victory.

The performance shook up the Dolphins so much that they fired special teams coach John Bonamego yesterday morning.

What O’Brien was able to get out of his unit wasn’t surprising to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has known O’Brien for almost 20 years.

“I think anytime that you’re with a group of players for a year, you just have a better understanding of their strengths, their weaknesses, and how different combinations work together and just what can work good with that particular group of players,’’ Belichick said. “There are always new players involved that are some key guys to work around.

“I think he’s [done] a real good job of putting guys in spots going back early into training camp, letting them work together, letting them progress, and grow and teach them the things that they need to do, their keys and techniques and so forth at those spots.

“We’ve also had some breakdowns, but I think it’s always easier the second year to have a little better feel for individuals and their aptitude and capacity and their skill set. He does a very good job of not only evaluating our opponents, but more importantly, evaluating the players that are on this team and putting them in good positions and getting the most out of them. The players work hard to make that happen.’’

The Patriots are second in the league in kick returns with an average of 31.6 yards. Their 10 touchbacks are second most in the league; five of those came Monday night.

The only special teams blunder Monday came when Wes Welker muffed a punt in the first quarter. But he quickly fell on the ball. After the game, he even took a dig at himself.

“Luckily, no harm no foul,’’ Welker said. “But at the same time, I hate being the lone guy that screwed up on special teams.’’

In the first half, Gostkowski accounted for all 6 of the Patriots’ points. Rookie punter Zoltan Mesko handled a bad snap and got it down in time for Gostkowski to convert a 23-yard field goal that made the score 7-3 Dolphins. Gostkowski came back to kick a 30-yard field goal to end the first half, with the Patriots trailing, 7-6.

But in the second half, it was special teams that boosted the Patriots into the lead. Tate’s second kickoff return for a TD this season gave the Patriots a lead they would not relinquish.

The Patriots defense then forced the Dolphins to punt after three plays, but Patrick Chung dived in to block the punt and set up a Patriots touchdown. Chung came back to block a 53-yard field goal attempt that Kyle Arrington returned 35 yards for a touchdown.

Both blocks were courtesy of the Patriots’ scheming on how other teams hurt the Dolphins in previous games. Last week, the Jets blocked a punt against the Dolphins, and that gave the Patriots some clues.

But as usual with the Patriots, there isn’t much time to relish the win.

“Players did a good job of capitalizing on some mistakes, and making some huge plays in the football game,’’ Belichick said. “There are certainly things we’ve still got to work on, and we kind of enjoyed the good feeling. But now it’s really time to move on and start to use the bye week as a time to improve our football team and start getting ready for Baltimore.

“We know what happened last time they came in here, so we’ve got big challenges ahead.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at

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