Jake Bailey

Phil Perry's Patriots Report Card: Mohamed Sanu's under-the-radar emergence encouraging

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Phil Perry's Patriots Report Card: Mohamed Sanu's under-the-radar emergence encouraging

It was the toughest challenge the Patriots had seen to this point, and it wasn't pretty. 

What happened in Baltimore didn't necessarily "expose" what Bill Belichick's roster can and can't do. There is only one team in the league that has what the Ravens have in Lamar Jackson, their heavy personnel packages, and their option running game. 

For that reason, the grades this week aren't a referendum on what we've seen from the Patriots throughout the course of this season. But, for one week, against a unique opponent with a unique scheme and a uniquely-talented quarterback, they did not have the answers to the test. 

Jake Bailey sounds like the choice for kickoffs following Stephen Gostkowski's injury

Jake Bailey sounds like the choice for kickoffs following Stephen Gostkowski's injury

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had more than one job to replace when they put Stephen Gostkowski on injured reserve earlier this week. They handled the field-goal and extra-point work by giving veteran Mike Nugent the place-kicker gig.

The kickoff duties, meanwhile, sound like they could be going to rookie punter Jake Bailey based on what long-snapper Joe Cardona told reporters Thursday.

No surprise there if Bailey's the choice. The Stanford product -- who had Bill Belichick gushing about his directional punting and hang time earlier this week -- didn't hide the fact that he'd love to kick off after he was drafted in the fifth round back in the spring.

"I would love to be able to do that," he said. "It's been a part of my game ever since I've been at Stanford. It's something I would like to continue. A lot of NFL teams really value a punter that can also kick off because it kind of helps out the kicker if he's getting old or something or doesn't have a strong kickoff leg, so whatever happens, I'll be super happy with it."

Bailey was a kickoff specialist to start his career at Stanford, punting only situationally. But even as his punting duties increased, he remained the kickoff choice for coach David Shaw. Bailey had 60 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs last year (83 percent). In 2017, he had 58 of 83 kicks go for touchbacks (70 percent), playing primarily in kicker-friendly Pac-12 locales.

The only thing in Bailey's way was Gostkowski. At 35 years old, Gostkowski wanted to keep kicking off this season, but he acknowledged it was harder on his body than kicking field goals.

"I would say you always practice field goals a lot more than kickoffs," he said. "I would equate kicking off to like hitting on the driving range. We work on things like hitting it short, hitting it in the corner, hitting it high. But at the end of the day, I'm really just swinging as hard as I can. Field goals. are so much more attention to detail that goes into it. Plus, if a kicker were to get injured, nine times out of 10 it's on a kickoff.

"It's one of those things, you gotta kick off enough to where you're comfortable with your rhythm and your steps. But you could go out there and kick field goals all day. You kick too many kickoffs, it'll tire you out a little bit more so you have to watch out how much you actually do kickoff-wise. I know a guy like Thomas Morstead who used to do it, he was like, 'I could punt all day, but kickoffs you just can't do all day.' It's one of those things. It's all effort. Balls to the wall. Then field goal is more like a smooth stroke."

Gostkowski took every kick off and appeared to get injured -- or aggravate an injury -- after making a tackle during a kickoff in Buffalo last weekend. The Patriots, according to Football Outsiders, are 26th in the NFL in opponent starting field position following kickoffs. They allow opposing offenses to begin drives following kickoffs, on average, at the 26.19 yard line.

That's obviously not where the Patriots would like to be, and it helps explain why they went out and signed some kick-coverage help this week when they brought back Jordan Richards. Their No. 26 ranking at this point in time is actually an uptick from 2018, though, when they were last in the league in opponent starting field position following kickoffs (27.11 yard line on average). It was a drastic drop from their No. 2 ranking in 2017 and No. 3 ranking in 2016.

It sounds like now with Gostkowski out, it'll be Bailey's right leg that'll have the opportunity to try to help that ranking climb back to a place where Belichick and special teams coach Joe Judge would like it.

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Bill Belichick goes gaga over rookie punter Jake Bailey's early-season performance

Bill Belichick goes gaga over rookie punter Jake Bailey's early-season performance

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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