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Punting situation seems up in the air

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / September 21, 2011

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Patriots Zoltan Mesko hit the turf in obvious pain after a teammate was blocked into his left (kicking) knee after a punt Sunday against the Chargers.

A day after the game, Mesko said he was “feeling great’’ and taking it day to day. The Patriots are taking the same approach as they wait to see whether the second-year punter will be available Sunday against the Bills in Buffalo.

After being hurt, Mesko didn’t come back to punt in the game, but he did come in to hold on a field goal, then walked gingerly off the field.

Yesterday, coach Bill Belichick said the punting situation remains in limbo, and picking someone up may be a possibility.

“We’re still working our way through some of those questions so I don’t know,’’ he said. “It’s possible.’’

If the Patriots have to go in that direction, there are some challenges, Belichick said.

“It’s not like standing out on the driving range, teeing it up, and hitting it as far as you can,’’ he said. “Situation punting is probably over half the game in punting, whether it’s directional punting, rushes, plus-50, end of the game, or end-of-half-type situations.

“There are a million things that the punter has to deal with - the punter, the whole punt team, personal protector, snapper.’’

Nick Caserio, director of player personnel, said available punters are evaluated the same as any other player.

“It’s really no different,’’ he said. “There are 32 quarterbacks on every team. There’s a pool of players that are on rosters, there’s a pool of players that are available that aren’t with teams.

“We’ll evaluate that pool of players like we do every week, at every position, and figure out who makes the most sense for the Patriots. If there’s an opportunity for us to add that player to the team, then we’ll do it.’’

Avoiding distractions Distractions may be part of the game, but opposing defenses faking injuries to slow down offenses is becoming a hot topic lately.

The Giants appeared to be the latest culprits, as safety Deon Grant and linebacker Jacquian Williams appeared to go down with dubious injuries against the Rams Monday night.

The Patriots have utilized their no-huddle offense in their first two games, and against San Diego, questions arose about the validity of a couple of Chargers injuries.

Whether or not a team is faking an injury, Belichick said the focus can’t change for an offense, and the stoppage has to be treated like any other distraction.

“I think we all see that the way the game is now, there are different breaks in the game at all points in time,’’ Belichick said. “You can have the momentum or positive things going on in your favor and we stop and review a play or review a score or a play gets challenged or a player gets injured or, you know, a beach ball rolls onto the field or it could be a dog runs out there. It could be anything - streakers.

“Things happen. That’s just part of being focused and playing through the situation, whatever it is that comes up, things you can’t control.

“Momentum and the tempo is going to change. You have to be able to deal with it on both sides of the ball, for it or against it, on the road and at home. It’s just part of the game. I think if you want to address that whole issue, then that’s something that needs to go to the people who make the rules.’’

Up for the challenge Cornerback Devin McCourty is seeing opponents launch numerous passes in his direction. At times, McCourty has seemed to misplay the ball or be in the wrong place, and at other times he has made nice plays. Overall, Belichick said, McCourty is playing well and has his confidence.

“I think Devin’s done a lot of good things for us,’’ he said. “He’s really probably played as well as anybody we’ve had on defense.

“As always, there are plays we’d all like to have back and do better on, so Devin’s very competitive. He sets very high goals and standards for himself. I’m sure he feels that way, too.’’

Gains made by receivers Chad Ochocinco was slightly more involved in the offense Sunday, with two receptions for 45 yards, but with tight end Aaron Hernandez out with a knee injury, he may be among those asked to do a little more against the Bills.

Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said the receivers are progressing.

“I think that whole position is moving forward,’’ O’Brien said. “Each guy - Chad, Deion [Branch], Wes [Welker] - especially those three guys that have played the most for us, those guys really improved from the Miami game to the San Diego game.

“I think they are doing little things better. We’re a game-plan offense, and depending on how teams are playing us, those are the personnel groups we go with.

“As long as we can keep people off-balance, that’s part of what we try to do, use different personnel groups. Some game, one guy might play more than another guy. Those guys understand that.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at

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