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Justin Bethel staying on the ball for Patriots’ special teams

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Justin Bethel played 26 snaps in the kicking game Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

New England Patriots v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

New England Patriots rookie Jake Bailey punted five times on Sunday night.

Justin Bethel had a hand in halting four, and provided backup for fellow Pro Bowl and All-Pro gunner Matthew Slater on the fifth.

It was more of what Bethel had done since entering the NFL in the sixth round of the 2012 draft out of Presbyterian. It was more of what the 29-year-old had done for the Baltimore Ravens prior to his release in late October.

But Bethel’s Ravens exit centered around the retention of a future fourth-round compensatory pick.

“Very tough,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh reflected on a conference call with the New England media last week. “Very tough. I mean, that’s the decision that was made. Sometimes you make decisions based on long-term ramifications. I think in the short term, it’s not something that helped us. It’s a good player that we don’t have anymore. Ironically, he ends up there with who we’re playing next.”

Bethel previously played a team-high 80 percent of Baltimore’s snaps special teams this fall. And against his former team at M&T Bank Stadium, he tied for a New England-high 87 percent of the snaps in that transitional phase.

The chase was on.

NFL Game Pass

Ravens returner Cyrus Jones fielded a pair of punts on Sunday evening. Jones found himself tackled by Bethel after a gain of seven yards on the first, and found himself muffing the second returnable opportunity as the footsteps of No. 29 closed in.

The latter play gave way to Bethel’s eighth career fumble recovery between his stops with the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore and now New England.

Bethel would also down a punt, then bat one out of touchback territory for core safety Nate Ebner to do the same.

The Patriots finished with a net of 45.2 yards per punt in the 37-20 loss to the Ravens. Across from a mainstay in Slater who has long been doubled, a recent arrival played an integral part in why.

FIVE PUNTS AGAINST BALTIMORE

  • 57 yards, tackled at opposing 25
  • 48 yards, downed at opposing 23
  • 41 yards, recovered at opposing 20
  • 31 yards, downed at opposing 6
  • 56 yards, downed at opposing 9

The average starting field position for the Ravens on those punts, if including the turnover, would be their own 16-yard line.

Bethel finished with an assisted tackle on a kick return by Ravens running back Justice Hill, as well.

“He’s great. Great kid,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said shortly after Bethel agreed to terms on a two-year, $2.5 million pact. “Works hard, has a passion for his job, understands what it is, understands his role in terms of the kicking game first, and he’s embraced the positions we’ve put him in.”

Bethel has seen 46 out of 59 snaps in the New England kicking game during his short stay.

It hasn’t been hard to see him. The best bet is to just look for the football.