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Patriots’ special teams issues rear their ugly head again: ‘You give up plays like that it’s going to be hard to win’

Related: Instant analysis from Patriots’ 27-17 loss to Colts

New England Patriots v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The New England Patriots came out flat against the Indianapolis Colts and found themselves in a 20-0 hole before a late, but ultimately unsuccessful rally in the fourth quarter. One of the biggest plays contributing to New England’s early deficit and eventual demise came in the first period — and it looked eerily familiar.

For the third time this year, the Patriots surrendered a blocked punt. To make matters worse, the Colts were able to recover the loose football in the end zone for six points and a 14-0 lead.

Just like the two previous punt blocks in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints and in Week 6 versus the Dallas Cowboys, this one saw the force team quickly get through a hole in New England’s interior protection. With the Colts’ Matthew Adams coming free, All-Pro punter Jake Bailey did not stand a chance.

His punt traveled towards the Patriots end zone, with Indianapolis linebacker E.J. Speed recovering it for an uncontested touchdown. It was the first punt block TD given up by New England since Bailey arrived in 2019, and the first such play in general surrendered by the team since a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in December 2015.

So, what happened? Head coach Bill Belichick had a rather simply explanation.

“We didn’t block the guy,” he said during his postgame press conference.

Special teams captain Matthew Slater, who was on the field for the play but not part of the protection unit, gave a more detailed response.

“Obviously, I don’t play on the interior so I didn’t get a great look at it. Seems like they just had a good force on the play, and more of a technique issue than anything,” he said. “I don’t think it was a schematic thing. That’s really all I can say about it because I’m on the perimeter, but that’s tough. When you give up plays like that it’s going to be hard for you to win.”

The Patriots appeared to be over their special teams miscues lately, playing some impressive football in the game’s third phase during their seven-game winning streak. The blocked punt in Indianapolis was a major setback, and it contributed to the team’s 27-17 defeat.

It was not the only time New England’s kicking game unit stood out for the wrong reasons, though. Even before the block, punt returner Gunner Olszewski fumbled the football. It rolled out of bounds, but the play was an ominous sign.

Later in the game, following quarterback Mac Jones’ second interception in the early third quarter, special teams was in the spotlight again. New England appeared to have dodged a bullet when Colts kicker Michael Badgley sent a field goal attempt wide to the right, but the play was nullified because of an offsides call against the Patriots’ Brandon King. The re-kick from 41 yards was good, allowing Indianapolis to go up 20-0.

New England’s special teams therefore had a direct hand in 10 of the Colts’ 27 total points. The Patriots ended up losing by 10. Obviously, though, the unit of coordinator Cam Achord is not the sole culprit for the loss — the offense had two turnovers, for example, while the defense struggled versus the run.

Add it all up and you get a disappointing result from the team’s perspective.

“I don’t think we did anything well enough to win,” said Slater. “Obviously, giving up a blocked punt doesn’t help, but we can’t expect to beat anybody playing like that.”