Can you remember the last New England Patriots punter that kicked with their right foot? There have only been two in the Bill Belichick era and they’ve been the shortest-tenured punters.
Brooks Barnard punted with his right foot 10 times for the Patriots during a solitary game in 2003 when the Patriots had cut Ken Walter for one week.
Todd Sauerbrun punted 24 times for the Patriots in the 2006 season after Josh Miller was placed on the injured reserve after 10 games and after Ken Walter, who made a return to New England, was also placed on the injured reserve after 4 games.
So Belichick has never entered a season with a right-footed punter. SI’s Jenny Vrentas did a deep dive into why Belichick loves the lefties and it’s worth a read.
“The simple answer is that left-footed punts spin the opposite direction, counterclockwise (from the punter’s perspective), presenting an extra challenge for returners who are used to reading a right-footer’s spin,” Vrentas writes. “But how much is the advantage, actually?”
Vrentas found that returnmen have muffed punts from left-footed punters 3.1% of the time, versus 2.5% of the time from right-footed punters. The advantage held in 2017 as returners muffed 3.7% of left-footed punts and 2.9% of right-footed punts.
“In [Belichick’s] mind, it might make a difference in one or two plays in a year,” former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri told Vrentas. “If a guy muffs a ball, and they get the ball, it may make a difference in the outcome of the game.”
Patriots punter Ryan Allen averages 76.4 punts per season and the rate of muffed punts suggests that Allen would be expected to force roughly 0.5 more muffed punts than the average right-footed punter. That’s not a huge difference, but as Chris Harper showed in the 2015 season, a single muffed punt could be the difference between having homefield advantage or going on the road to play the Denver Broncos in the conference championship game.
But Vrentas spoke with former Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko and found that there might be more to Belichick’s affection for a left-footed punter than just a tricky catch for the returner.
“That stadium,” Mesko said about Gillette Stadium, “is kind of made for lefties.”
Apparently, the wind pattern at Gillette Stadium helps the distance of left-footed punts due to their spiral direction catching a boost from the current, while also negatively affecting the room for error by right-footed punters with the wind exacerbating any mishit.
So chalk that up to another advantage of Gillette Stadium, along with the warm Gatorade and the parking lot jumbotron that faces the Patriots sideline.