FOXBORO -- There's little Bill Belichick loves more than a good special-teams discussion. One of those things, it would stand to reason, is good special teams play.
We heard him go head-over-heels for his team's punt-block returned for a touchdown last weekend, and then one day after the win he went positively gaga (for him) over the work of his rookie punter Jake Bailey.
Bailey had what was arguably his best game as a pro in Buffalo, hitting nine punts that averaged 48.1 yards, including a long of 61. Only two landed inside the 20 -- partly because the Patriots had so many drives stall out in their own territory -- but he was a field-position flipper all afternoon.
Currently the punter with the fourth-highest grade in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, Bailey is fourth in football with 10 punts that have been dropped inside the 20. His max hang time of 5.2 seconds is sixth in the league this year, per PFF.
"Jake's done a great job for us," Belichick told WEEI's Ordway, Merloni and Fauria show Monday. "He's hit the ball extremely well. His directional punting has been outstanding. He's really placed the ball on the sideline multiple times already this season to eliminate returns.
"He's done a good job. He's put the ball up for our gunners . . . With that kind of hang time it brings both gunners into play. If you don't put enough hang time on the ball, a lot of times the backside guy just can't get there. Jake's put the ball up there with great positioning and height and hang time. Really helped our coverage team out. He's done an outstanding job."
It's not often you hear Belichick use the words "great," "extremely well" and "outstanding" in one answer in describing one of his own rookies. Usually that kind of praise from Belichick is reserved for opponents. And if it is one of his own players he’s talking about it’s someone like Tom Brady, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Matthew Slater or another veteran who’s been around and has a much longer resume.
Belichick went on to explain that he and his staff weren't entirely sure Bailey would be able to do what he's done, even when they took him in the fifth round out of Stanford last spring. They knew he could kick it a long way, but the directional-punting aspect of the job -- something that Bailey's predecessor Ryan Allen did well -- was an unknown.
"I wouldn't say that's something he did a lot of in college," Belichick said. "We've done more as he's gotten better at it and he's performed well doing it . . .
"You play to [a] player's strengths. I'd say he's shown that this is one of his strengths. I'm not sure that we knew exactly how good he was or wasn't just because he hadn't done a lot of it. But we knew he had a good leg. We knew he put good height on the ball. But his directional punting has been really good. We've seen that over the course of spring, training camp and now into the regular season. Think we're all gaining confidence in him."
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