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Kick blockers had a big hand in win

FOXBOROUGH -- Bill Belichick was going old school, back to his NFL coaching roots.

Using a chair as a prop and extending his arms with the tips of his thumbs touching, the Patriots coach was detailing the finer points of blocking a punt. Later, he dropped into a 3-point stance, took two steps forward and then thrust his arms in the air to illustrate proper technique for blocking field goals on an inside rush.

They are nuances of football that Belichick first coached when he entered the league in the 1970s. More than 30 years later, those same techniques still apply, and the Patriots' 17-13 victory over the Bears Sunday provided a snapshot of how important they can be.

Defensive lineman Mike Wright's partial block of a punt gave the Patriots good field position toward the end of the second quarter, which the team turned into a 52-yard field goal. Earlier in the game, defensive lineman Richard Seymour blocked a 45-yard field goal attempt, keeping the Bears from taking an early 3-0 lead. And then there was the near-disaster averted, when Ken Walter's first punt of the game was almost blocked by Charles Tillman at the Patriots' 20-yard line.

Toss those three plays together, and it was a 6-point swing -- potentially more -- that could easily be overlooked in a game that featured numerous other subplots.

When it comes to punt blocking and field goal blocking, there is specific technique that most teams -- including the Patriots, under special teams coach Brad Seely -- practice on a regular basis. Belichick believes the punt-blocking skill takes time to master, and he called Detroit's Levi Johnson (1973-77) and Charlie West (1974-77), and Kansas City's Gary Green (1977-83) some of the best he's seen over his 32-year NFL coaching career.

Belichick said there are essentially three elements when it comes to punt blocking: taking the proper angle on the rush, the actual block, then finishing the play.

It starts with the rush and identifying the block point, which is usually 9-10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, depending on the punter. Most punters initially line up about 15 yards behind the line, then punt the ball about 5 yards in front of where they started.

"You want to take an angle, so that if you're at that point and you miss the ball, you don't hit the punter," Belichick said. "So your angle is going to be between 5 or 6 yards before where the punter lines up, depending on his steps and his stride and all that. That's part of preparation."

Had the Bears' Tillman taken a better angle in Sunday's game, he probably would have blocked Walter's first punt after surging up the middle but veering to his left as he approached the block point.

Yet even those players who take the correct angles can sometimes miss a block if their technique is off. Wright felt he would have had a cleaner block of Brad Maynard's second-quarter punt had his form been slightly better, as his hands weren't together. He made contact with his right hand and the punt ended up being a 24-yarder.

"The proper technique for blocking a punt is that you want to try to put your hands right where the punter's foot contacts the ball," explained Belichick, touching the tips of his thumbs to create an open-tipped triangle. "You literally should try to take the ball off the punter's foot."

Belichick added that the best punt blockers are those who usually recover their own blocks.

"You should actually see the ball come off the punter's foot," he said. "A good punt blocker, when he blocks the kick, wherever the ball goes, he would go right to the ball -- instead of looking around, wondering where it is -- because he would have followed it right off the foot and seen it hit his hands.

"So when we coach that, it's getting off on the ball, getting to the block point, putting your hands on the contact point between the ball and the punter's foot, and then having the player run and pick the ball up to make sure he's watching the ball."

The technique for blocking field goal attempts, meanwhile, has some slight variations. Take Seymour's as an example.

Because Seymour was executing an inside rush, there was no chance that he could take the ball off the kicker's foot like a player flattening out on an outside rush. So his key was to get an initial push out of a three-point stance, then correctly timing when to thrust his arms into the air.

"As a defensive lineman, you want to try to look in at the ball when the ball is snapped and try to come off with your hands inside and come off low -- one, two, and up," said Belichick, as he raised his arms.

Getting those hands up is obviously key.

"It doesn't matter how much push you get -- if you don't get your hands up, you're not going to block it," Belichick said. "Even if there is no push, it could be a low kick and you have a shot. Then it's timing. If you push too long, the ball could be gone by the time you get those hands up. And if you put them up too early, you don't get enough push to cut down the angle."

Seymour's block was textbook in that he lined up with several teammates in the guard-tackle gap, accounting for the right-to-left angle in which the ball had to be kicked off the right hash mark. The 6-foot-6-inch Seymour powered through Bears lineman Terrence Metcalf before timing when to extend his right arm.

"In that case, Richard was right in the line of flight, got a good push, and got his hands up," Belichick said. "A good push from a different angle wouldn't have made much of a difference."

The block was Seymour's sixth in his six-year career (including playoffs) and when Belichick reviewed the game on film, he believed it was a key play. Ditto for Wright's block that set up Stephen Gostkowski's big kick.

"Ultimately, when you look at the game, you have us blocking a field goal, then you have a 52-yarder at the end of the half," Belichick said. "In a close game that's only decided by a couple points, those end up being really big plays."

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