Patriots truly displaying 'special' teams of late
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) --
Derrick Martin has built a championship career out of playing on
The seven-year veteran earned Super Bowl rings the past two seasons -
first with the Green Bay Packers and then with the New York Giants. Now
he has a shot at a third straight title with the New England Patriots.
He offers no apologies for making his mark on special teams rather than
on the higher profile offensive or defensive units.
''You look for guys to step in and contribute,'' Martin said Wednesday
of special teams. ''Don't be out there just because you have to, but
take it as a serious job, make sure you're making the plays that you're
supposed to make.''
The Patriots (8-3) have made some big ones during their five-game
winning streak with touchdowns on a 104-yard kickoff return by Devin McCourty, a 68-yard punt return by Julian Edelman and a 22-yard fumble
return by Edelman after McCourty jarred the ball loose on a kickoff
Plays like that can energize the Patriots and deflate their opponents.
''You feed off of it,'' Martin said. ''When you see somebody else
making a play, you're like, `Man, it's probably my turn to make that
play,' and everybody's competing to make that play, but they're all
doing their job. So everybody's working well as a team.''
His next chance comes Sunday in Miami where a win would give the
Patriots their fourth straight AFC East title. The Dolphins (5-6) also
have made some big plays on special teams with Marcus Thigpen scoring
on a 72-yard punt return and a 96-yard kickoff return this season.
''It's not going to be an easy task going against them, and it's not
going to be easy for them going against us,'' said Marlon Moore,
Miami's second-leading tackler on special teams. ''It's going to be a
long day on both sides of the ball for special teams, and that's going
to be a big difference in the game.''
In their last two games, the Dolphins have allowed touchdowns on a
79-yard punt return and a 98-yard kickoff return. But Miami's special
teams have improved since the 2010 season when they were especially
poor against New England.
In two games against the Patriots that season, the Dolphins allowed
three special teams touchdowns, one each on a punt and kickoff return,
as well as a blocked field goal. Another blocked field goal set up a
touchdown two plays later.
If the Patriots can keep making big plays - and scoring touchdowns - on
special teams it will result from the seasonlong focus on the
importance of that phase.
''Our hard work and preparation throughout the week is starting to show
itself in the games,'' special teams captain Matthew Slater said. ''We
haven't changed anything. We just continue to approach things the same
way we always have and sometimes you're fortunate enough for things to
happen in your favor, the ball to bounce the right way in your favor.
''And we've been able to have that the last two weeks.''
In a 59-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Edelman's punt return for a
touchdown and the extra point tied the game 14-14 and the Patriots
never trailed again. Four days later, on Thanksgiving night, McCourty's
hit on kickoff returner Joe McKnight knocked the ball into the air and
Edelman caught it and ran in for a touchdown that gave the Patriots a
28-0 lead in their 49-19 win.
McCourty was chosen for the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2010 and anchors
the secondary at safety after shifting from cornerback after the sixth
game. He takes his special teams responsibilities just as seriously.
''You can make a lot of big plays on special teams and I'm on a couple
of them,'' McCourty said. ''It's key for me to do my role on that
special team and try to make plays as well.''
Scoring on special teams also can give the offense more time on the
sideline to rest and plan. If a player returns a punt or kickoff for a
touchdown, Tom Brady can watch his defense go right back out on the
''It's a great thing to happen for a team,'' he said. ''We've been
fortunate the last few weeks. I don't think there's really an advantage
for our offense sitting over there. I'd prefer to be out there playing.
But if we're scoring points, that's a great thing.''
Making contributions on special teams is important for players, whether
they score or not. It can lead to long careers they wouldn't have if
they had to get by only on their offensive or defensive talents.
Slater has just one reception in five seasons with the Patriots but
leads the team with 14 special teams tackles and has 72 in his five pro
seasons, all with New England. Martin has five in three games with the
Patriots and 62 in his career that began with Baltimore in 2006.
''We're a very close knit group of guys,'' Slater said. ''We understand
how we're going to keep jobs in this league and we take a lot of pride
in what we're doing.''
Especially when the emphasis the Patriots put on special teams leads to
big plays and victories.
''You're not counting on the special team to score every game. It's
just not realistic for that to happen,'' Slater said. ''But when it
does happen, it brings a huge momentum swing to the game. In the case
of the last two weeks, it's been huge for us.''
And the teams that don't stress special teams as much?
''Those are usually teams,'' Martin said, ''that are losing.''
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