By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The good news for the Patriots last Sunday was that they had a rather large margin for error, considering the destitute state of the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.
But that room for sloppy play will disappear in a hurry, first on their trip to Miami (where bad things tend to happen to Bill Belichick's team), and then in their postseason quest.
That's why, for as much as Sunday's 50-10 victory over the Jaguars was a party in Foxboro, it still did raise a red flag in the area of special teams.
After the Patriots drove for a touchdown to begin the second half, the field goal unit rolled out the red carpet to allow Adam Gotsis directly into the backfield to block the PAT with ease.
In the fourth quarter, after a Rhamondre Stevenson touchdown run gave the Patriots their 50th point of the game, Jake Bailey lost control of the ball when trying to get it down for Nick Folk on the PAT, leading to another ugly play on special teams.
In a vacuum, the miscues could be chalked up to a brief loss of focus in a blowout. But the mistakes are part of a larger issue.
The Patriots have allowed three blocked punts. No other team has allowed more than one blocked punt, and the Patriots account for three of the eight blocked punts across the entire NFL this year.
Bailey, who was an All-Pro a year ago, ranks 20th in the NFL in net punting average at 39.6 yards. (He led the NFL in that category at 45.6 yards last year.) The Patriots also rank 18th in net kickoff average at 42.49 yards. (Bailey and the kickoff unit ranked seventh in that category a year ago.)
Folk has been excellent on field goals, but he's missed five of his 44 PAT attempts.
Special teams coordinator Cam Achord didn't have much in the way of specifics when it came to Sunday's errors. He said "our technique wasn't what it needed to be on the inside on the block" and that "we've just gotta handle the ball and get the ball down" on the fumbled snap.
But Achord didn't brush off either mistake, noting that points are always at stake when the field goal unit is on the field.
"It's not one thing here or there, it's just operating the same. Every time we go out there, we're going out there to compete for points," Achord said Tuesday. "And that's the biggest thing when you send that field goal unit out there is you're negotiating points. If it's a PAT, you're really negotiating one point for you, but it's also two points, if you look at it if you don't make it in that end. So we're always going out there negotiating points, so we've just gotta emphasize that and make sure we do a better job to go out there and execute."
The window to improve in those areas is small. The Patriots end their regular season on Sunday in Miami, giving them one last shot for a clean special teams showing before the postseason. Once the playoffs begin, the spotlight will shine a whole lot brighter on any potential special teams miscue, as the fate of the entire season could come down to the third and often overlooked phase of the game.
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