The New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium has always been one of the hardest places in the NFL to kick a football in. This year, however, is extra special: the northern end zone is undergoing a massive reconstruction project, which in turn impacts the in-stadium environment.
One thing it has therefore not been is consistent, as Patriots special teams coach Cam Achord said on Tuesday. However, he also explained how the team is trying to adapt to the challenge that the ever-changing construction site presents.
“It changes, there’s no doubt about that,” Achord said about the predictability of the wind patterns. “What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to make notes on what supposedly the wind is supposed to be. And as you go in there you just make notes and you just kind of try to see if there is a pattern. For us right now there hasn’t really been a true pattern. It’s been changing each week.
“So, you’re really relying on what you’re feeling on game day, and what it is out there and how the ball’s moving on game day to get an idea of what it’s going to be that day.”
Gillette Stadium has been home to the Patriots since its opening in 2002, and has undergone several modifications through the years. This latest one is the biggest to date, however.
A major transformation.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 10, 2021
The Kraft family announces renovation project on the north side of @GilletteStadium: https://t.co/2Wvi6ftt0V pic.twitter.com/mMngy4A7JH
The $225 million renovation project began earlier this year and is scheduled to be completed ahead of the 2023 season. Once constructions are complete, the north end zone and entry plaza will look drastically different.
Until construction is complete, however, the Patriots will have to find a way to adapt to the conditions. So far this year, they have tried charting wind patterns but have mostly been relying on in-stadium experience.
“We’re trying to go in there as much as we can, especially when we’re playing at home,” said Achord. “The more that our specialists can get in there — whether it’s the kickers, the punters, the returners — and actually be in the stadium, and be around, and see what the weather is during the day, that’s what it potentially could be at 1 o’clock.
“So, we’re trying to get in there as much as we can, we make notes, but you always go back to the game day. What are you feeling on game day? And it may be close to something you felt during the week — ‘Hey, it’s close to this, maybe this is what we can do.’ It’s weekly-based and its game-based, but I’d say it’s changed for us. Each game this season at home has been a different pattern. So, we’ve had to adjust each week.”
So far this season, the Patriots have fared pretty well kicking the football in their home arena. Place kicker Nick Folk, who has been one of the most reliable players in the entire league this season, has made all 11 of his field goal attempts at Gillette Stadium as well as all eight of his extra points.
Punter Jake Bailey, has been able to adapt as well — in a way, at least. The third-year man, after all, has a similar punting average at home and on the road: his average punt in Foxborough is traveling 42.1 yards compared to 42.0 when traveling. That consistency itself can be a positive, but in Bailey’s case it means that his punting has been as underwhelming at home as on the road (his punt average is ranked just 31st in the NFL).
Still, Achord is feeling good about how the kickers and the rest of the operation have answered the challenges so far.
“We’ve had some really tough conditions to kick in in there, actually, a couple of games,” he said. “It’s something that the guys have done a good job of and continue to handle.”