The Patriots wrapped up their 11th-straight AFC East title on Saturday night and on Sunday morning head coach Bill Belichick checked in with the media.
One thing that continues to stand out is how aggressive the Patriots punt return team has been this season. At times they've sold out and not even bothered to put a returner back. With a team record four blocks it's paid off directly on the scoreboard, though the lack of returner has cost them some field position at times.
"We always want to try to create the best field position that you can," said Belichick about their punt-block strategy. "That's what we try to do. Sometimes you're more aggressive in trying to create it than others. There's always – any time you take a risk, there's probably a little more upside and maybe a little more downside. Yeah, we deal with that all the time. It's just part of the kicking game strategy."
The special teams work this season has been an enormous part of the 12 wins. Belichick credited special teams coach Joe Judge with being a big part of the planning process.
"Joe and I talk about that all week," said Belichick. "I think Joe's done a great job all year with that."
"Our staff's adjustable," continued Belichick. "We've had, especially with Joe Judge and Josh McDaniels, they've been through pretty much every scenario you can go through from a scheduling standpoint. They've done a great job in terms of having players prepared. Defensively, we've worked through it as well, too. Yeah, these guys have done a great job, and I think our veteran players have also handled that well. They've been through those scenarios too and recognize the urgency on a short week, how important it is the first day of the week – even though you're a little ahead of schedule."
After Gunner Olszewski returned 20 punts in eight games for a 9.0 yards-per-return average, Mohamed Sanu has filled in, essentially as someone back there just to catch it. Despite Sanu's paltry 5.9 yards-per-return average on eight returns, the Patriots are still a top-10 DVOA punt return team.
They might lack big-time return threats but the Patriots special teams are still finding ways to make game-changing plays.