The New England Patriots as a whole struggled to string positive moments together during the 2020 season, but one player was a notable exception. Punter Jake Bailey played on a consistently high level throughout the year, and was one of the few standouts performers on an otherwise disappointing squad.
In fact, he was as good a punter as any in football. As a result, Bailey saw numerous accolades headed his way: he was named to his first ever Pro Bowl, was voted to the first All-Pro team, and was part of the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-NFL team.
Bailey was not the only member of New England’s special teams group to make those teams, however. While he was joined by veteran Matthew Slater on the Pro Bowl squad — the ninth time the long-time team captain made the cut — punt returner Gunner Olszewski was recognized on the All-Pro and All-NFL teams; Olszewski, like Bailey, is also a first-time member of those all-star rosters.
And as Bailey recently told Erik Scalavino of Patriots.com, being able to share those distinctions is a vital part of the experience as a whole.
“It’s so cool. I think we already had a tight-knit team,” Bailey said. “I have some really good, life-long friends on this team. But just being able to share experiences like I’ve had with these guys over the last two, three weeks… Those guys have helped me out a ton this year, and they’re the reason why any of these awards have happened. It’s a team award and a testament to how talented these guys are.
“Everybody was so excited. I tried my best to thank them. I’m so grateful to be on the same team as them.”
While Slater has been an integral part of the operation since his arrival in 2008, both Bailey and Olszewski are relatively new to the team. Bailey joined the Patriots as a fifth-round selection out of Stanford in last year’s draft, with Olszewski — a college defensive back at Bemidji State who was moved to wide receiver upon entering the pros — coming aboard as a rookie free agent.
Together, all three men helped New England field arguably the best special teams group in all of football during the 2020 season. And Bailey knows that having a high-quality group around him plays a big role in his individual success.
“These guys did not make a mistake once the whole year,” he told the Patriots’ official website. “They did such a good job covering my punts and kickoffs, and protecting on all of them. Midway through 2020, I felt like all of us on special teams realized we’re pretty good. Everyone can cover every kick I can hit. We’ve got a chance to be really, really good. So, we kept grinding, stat-chasing a little bit at the end of the year.”
All in all, the second-year punter and kickoff specialist finished with some impressive numbers.
Bailey punted the football 55 times for an average of 48.7 yards per kick and a league-leading net average of 45.6 yards. 31 of his punts landed inside the opposing 20-yard line, while only five of them bounced into the end zone for touchbacks. Only 12 of his punts were returned for an average of 5.9 yards per runback. On top of it all, Bailey also served as New England’s kickoff specialist and holder on field goal and extra point tries.
While the Patriots have plenty of questions heading into the offseason, the punter position certainly is not among them.