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Punter Mesko airs his feelings

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 15, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH - Bill Belichick wasn’t in the mood to play Mr. Wizard.

Asked to hypothesize about the impact altitude will have on his team when it travels to Denver this weekend, the Patriots coach deadpanned, “Both teams will be breathing the same air.’’

But punter Zoltan Mesko is interested in seeing if the thin air tacks a few yards on his kicks. He’s been to Colorado before, he said - to ski, not to punt. He’ll get a chance to test out the effects of the elevation at Invesco Field at Mile High on Sunday.

“Until I get there and try it out myself in warm-ups, that’s when the adjustments happen,’’ Mesko said. “It’ll be nice to see what it’s like.’’

In his second season, Mesko has punted 45 times, averaging 46.1 yards, with 16 kicks inside the opponents’ 20.

“He’s built on his rookie year and he’s done a real good job for us,’’ Belichick said. “Punting is so much situational. You don’t just sit out there and bang it away. You’ve got rushes to deal with, you’ve got field conditions, wind conditions. So his situational punting has really improved. There’s still some things he can do better, but I think he’s taken a solid jump from his rookie year in terms of his mechanics and also his situational awareness to be able to execute in different types of situations.’’

Last week, in the first quarter of the Patriots’ win over the Redskins, Mesko punted from the Washington 40 and Matthew Slater downed it at the 4. Three plays later, with the Redskins backed against their end zone, the Patriots’ defense turned the field position into a touchdown.

“It definitely shows that I’m making a difference in the field position battle,’’ Mesko said. “The field position battle is huge any given Sunday. It’s good to have teammates like Matthew Slater and Sergio Brown who can get down there and make the play for me.’’

That wasn’t even the highlight of Mesko’s weekend. While he was in Washington, a meeting was set up between Mesko and his childhood idol, Gheorghe Muresan, the 7-foot-7-inch former NBA player who like Mesko was born in Romania.

“It was like talking to a movie star, which he was,’’ Mesko said. “I admitted to him that I’ve seen ‘My Giant’ about 20 times and I still own it on VHS. He gave me a high-five for it.’’

Doggone good

This is Matt Light’s 11th season as a pro, but he swears he’s aging in dog years.

“My face says it all,’’ he said, joking.

Light hasn’t given up a quarterback pressure in three games.

“I’m healthy,’’ said Light, who missed five games in 2009 but bounced back and played all 16 games last season. “I’m happy about that.’’

Light will have to deal with a Broncos pass rush that’s racked up 37 sacks, fourth-most in the league.

“Matt’s playing very well, he’s had a solid year,’’ Belichick said. “He’s a real experienced player who’s seen a lot of football, seen a lot of experienced, good guys out there, and competed well.

“Matt works really hard out there every week to be ready to go. He’s a very good competitor. He’s got good technique, he’s got a lot of experience, and we’ll need him this week.’’

Focused on task

Denver’s Matt Prater has kicked winning field goals each of the last three weeks, forced overtime last Sunday with a 59-yarder, and is the reigning AFC special teams player of the week. No offense, but Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski hasn’t paid much attention to his counterpart.

“He’s doing good, but I don’t go around comparing myself or looking at what other people do. No disrespect to him personally, it just doesn’t affect me one way or the other,’’ said Gostkowski, who has made 22 of 26 field goals this season and is second in the AFC with 112 points. “I just worry about the opportunities that I get, and hopefully I get an opportunity on Sunday to help our team win.’’

No great shock

After torching the Redskins for six catches and a career-high 160 yards and two touchdowns, in the process setting the record for touchdowns by a tight end in a season, Rob Gronkowski was named AFC offensive player of the week.

“I’m actually not amazed,’’ said fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez. “He did it in camp and he’s been doing it all year. We knew he was a freak of nature and he’s kind of impossible to guard because he’s got so much size. So, I’m not shocked at all.’’

With 1,088 receiving yards, Gronkowski is the second Patriots tight end to top 1,000 in a season. Ben Coates had 1,174 in 1994.

Chung, Vollmer sit

Safety Patrick Chung (foot) and tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot/back) missed practice yesterday. Limited were: Kyle Arrington (foot), Tom Brady (not injury-related), Deion Branch (groin), Dan Connolly (groin), Julian Edelman (back), Dane Fletcher (thumb), James Ihedigbo (shoulder), Devin McCourty (shoulder), Slater (shoulder), Brandon Spikes (knee), Shane Vereen (hamstring), Wes Welker (knee), Ryan Wendell (calf), Vince Wilfork (not injury-related), Danny Woodhead (abdomen) . . . The Patriots signed defensive back Sterling Moore to the practice squad. Moore has floated between the practice squad and 53-man roster this season, playing five games (three starts) . . . The Patriots worked out defensive end Cedric McKinley, most recently with the Vikings.

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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