The New England Patriots pride themselves on playing complementary football, and having a player like Jake Bailey in the fold certainly helps doing that. The 23-year-old, after all, is one of the best punters in the NFL and has proven himself capable of flipping field position every time he kicks the football away — thus making the job easier for the defense whenever the offense stalls.
Unfortunately, stalling has become somewhat of a regular occurrence for the New England offense in 2020: only 50 of the team’s 130 drives so far this season ended with a score, while the others resulted either in turnovers, kneel-downs or, 71 times, with Bailey taking the field to punt.
And Bailey has been spectacular in this area. While his gross punting average of 48.8 yards per kick is ranked fourth in the league, he leads the NFL with a net of 46.1 yards per punt. This speaks not just for the punter’s leg strength and ability to place the football well, but also his hang-time skills which allows his teammates to get down the field quickly — a symbiosis that has made the Patriots one of the league’s premier punt coverage units.
“Every game I get to play with this team is such a privilege. I really think I have some of the best special teamers — kicker, snapper — all assembled into one team. And it’s just been a huge blessing for me to get to play with them because it makes my job really easy,” said Bailey about New England’s special teams group during a media conference call earlier this week.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2019, Bailey won the job over incumbent Ryan Allen last summer and quickly established himself as a viable weapon not just on punts but kickoffs as well. He did have some natural rookie growing pains, but all in all showed his immense potential time and again. Now in his second year, he has put it all together.
So, what has changed for the 23-year-old compared to last season?
“I think anytime you go into Year One to Year Two you’re a little bit more comfortable with the process of being a professional football player,” Bailey said this week. “But I can’t understate how nice it is for me to play with these guys on special teams. It makes my job so easy. And any success I have is credit to them.”
Bailey later also mentioned comfortability when talking with Steve Burton for a segment on patriots.com.
“The biggest difference, I think, has just been comfortability,” he said about his development from his rookie campaign to a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2020. “Knowing where I fit in on this team, and just the guys around me, and coming to work every day with them, knowing where I fit in and just really gelling with them. It’s been great, I’m gelling with these guys on special teams.”
In a season that has seen the Patriots play some up-and-down football, Bailey has therefore been able to deliver some much-needed consistency. And some highlight reel plays as well, as his 71-yard punt against the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday night showed. The play was one of the best of New England’s season so far, which speaks not just for the type of year it has been for the team but also for Bailey’s growth.