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Patriots have been nothing short of special

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  October 20, 2010 10:06 AM

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Zoltan Mesko had a 65-yard punt in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Bouncing around while looking beyond the box score…

We all know how important special teams play is to Bill Belichick, and this year is providing the biggest example why. Zoltan Mesko’s 65-yard punt on Sunday was a key play in defeating the Ravens, but is merely a highlight of special teams play that has been consistently good since the start of the season.

Entering Week 7, the Patriots rank second in the league in average starting fielding position, a huge improvement over last year, when they were consistently near the bottom of the league. (In fact, they finished 31st among the 32 NFL teams.) As for the punting, the Patriots stunk in that area, too. New England ranked 32nd in net punting – dead last again – an area in which the club has shown considerable improvement this year (13th).

And as we all know, those numbers include C.J. Spiller’s kickoff return for a touchdown in the Buffalo game, making the overall play that much more impressive.

The point? The Pats are winning the field position battle on a weekly basis, a critical development given the youth and inexperience they have on defense. (Opponents, on average, must now travel farther to score; every little bit helps.) Meanwhile, an offense led by Tom Brady now has shorter distances to travel thanks to Brandon Tate, among others.

On Sunday, when Stephen Gostkowski kicked off, the Ravens’ average drive started at their own 18-yard line. Against Miami in the previous game, including punts, the Pats’ average drive started at their own 36 while the Dolphins were pinned at their own 24. Overall, the kickoff and punt coverage has been quite good.

Might this be a big reason the Pats are 4-1 and coming off encouraging wins against the Dolphins and Ravens?

* In case you’re wondering, Taylor Hall has yet to score in four games for the Edmonton Oilers. In an average of 15 minutes, 42 seconds of ice time, Hall has one assist, two penalty minutes and seven shots on goal. He is a minus-1.

* We all know that the Red Sox will add seats if and when they expand the bullpens at Fenway Park. The question is: what kind of impact will this have on the ballpark? The Red Sox haven’t had much success developing power hitters during the John Henry ownership era, so could it be that they’ve decided to bring in the fences? Will this allow for the righthanded hitters in the Boston lineup to drive the ball out to right field?

Or, with steroids now phasing out of the game, are the Red Sox looking to increase offense so as to boost ticket sales and television ratings?

Just throwing this stuff out there, particularly in light of the obvious way the Yankees have built their team to take full advantage of the joke that is right field in New York.

* Brandon Meriweather’s base salary this season is $550,000, which breaks down in 17 weekly "game" checks for $32,352.94. Yesterday, the NFL rightfully fined Meriweather $50,000 for his hits on Ravens tight end Todd Heap on Sunday. This means that Meriweather would have saved nearly $18,000 if the league had suspended him instead of fining him.

* In 17 regular season games with the Bruins before being injured last regular season, Dennis Seidenberg was a plus-9. He had a minus rating in only one game, a 1-0 to Florida on April 1. So far this year, the Bruins are a plus-2 with Seidenberg on the ice, his only minus performance (again, a minus-1) coming in the season-opening 5-2 loss to Phoenix in Prague.

Add it all up and, in 21 regular season games with the Bruins, Seidenberg is a plus-11. Over the course of a full season, that kind of play would translate into a plus-43. Are we overlooking the impact Seidenberg has had – and could have – on this club?

* There were those of us who thought the Texas Rangers were a tough matchup for the Yankees this postseason, and the Yankees themselves were clearly in the group. That is why they wanted no part of the Rangers in the first round. Texas has the lefthanded pitching necessary to thwart the Yankees, particularly in New York, and the way the American League Championship Series is playing out proves it.

In four games, the Yankees are batting .160 with a .478 OPS against Texas lefties in the series. Against righthanders, the Yankees are batting .260 with an .833 OPS. Game 4 changed when Texas manager Ron Washington hooked righthander Tommy Hunter for lefty Derek Holland, who silenced the Yankees for 3 2/3 innings.

When Hunter left, the game was tied 2-2 and the bases were loaded with one out. Holland came and in retired both batters he faced, allowing only a run on a force out that gave the Yankees a 3-2 edge. Three innings later, when Holland left the game, the Rangers led 7-3.

The bottom line: Josh Beckett and John Lackey had better improve against lefthanded batters – or the Red Sox need to find another starter who can handle lefties.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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