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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Getting his kicks

Punter Sauerbrun happy, contributing

Todd Sauerbrun can smile about being accepted so easily by the Patriots. (FILE/BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)

Punter Todd Sauerbrun was one of the unsung contributors in the Patriots' victory over the Chargers, helping shift field position with some booming kicks.

While Sauerbrun felt he was solid, averaging 44.1 yards (39.3 net) on seven punts, he believes his best is yet to come.

"I'm still not where I need to be," he said after the game. "The way I feel is that every ball should be knocked out of the stadium. That's where I want to be."

Sauerbrun signed with the Patriots Dec. 22 and has punted in the last four games. Early on, he said it would take time to find his groove.

"I'm still a little stiff, my whole body," he said. "That takes time to work all that rust out. Unfortunately, the time I'll probably be peaking will be once there are no more games to be played. But it's night and day from when I first got here."

A key play in Sunday's victory came in the third quarter, when Sauerbrun lofted a 51-yard punt in the direction of Chargers returner Eric Parker. He knew it was going to be a tough one to handle, and Parker ended up muffing it, with the Patriots recovering.

"It was the way the ball was rotating, and I remember thinking, 'Good luck with that one,' " he said. "It was just weird-looking. I had never hit one in practice like that before."

Sauerbrun is looking forward to kicking in the RCA Dome, where he knows it will be "70 and sunny."

"The cold is brutal, and I think it affects the kickers the worst, especially with all these new K balls we have to use," he said. "Just trying to handle them can be brutal."

A 12-year veteran, Sauerbrun wondered how he would fit in the Patriots' locker room, especially joining a playoff team so late in the season. He's pleased with how things have unfolded.

"I feel like I fit right in; the guys here are a special group, I really believe that," he said. "It almost feels like I've been here all year, which I think is a reflection of the guys around you. There are no cliques anywhere, it's nothing like 'we don't talk to the kicker.' Everybody is cool with everybody."

Sauerbrun also has been impressed with rookie placekicker Stephen Gostkowski.

"I've been around great kickers in my day, and I promise you he's going to be one of them; he's just not one of them because he hasn't been around long enough," said Sauerbrun. "He kicks a hell of a ball. He's got the leg and a great head on his shoulders. Most of all, he has the mind for a kicker."

The playoff payoff
With each playoff appearance, Patriots players receive significant pay boosts in the form of playoff shares. They received $19,000 after beating the Jets in the wild-card round and another $19,000 for playing in Sunday's divisional round. The number increases to $37,000 per player for the AFC Championship game. For some of the players on the low end of the team's pay scale, such as rookie linebackers Corey Mays and Pierre Woods, this is a significant portion of their season-long earnings. Both Mays and Woods have base salaries of $275,000, so their playoff take of $75,000 represents a 27 percent increase. Super Bowl losers will receive $38,000 apiece, while Super Bowl winners get $73,000 apiece.

Harrison coy
Injured safety Rodney Harrison, who has not played since spraining his right knee in the final regular-season game at Tennessee Dec. 31, attended the Boston College-Miami basketball game at Conte Forum last night, although he shed little insight on his status. When the Associated Press asked him about a possible return for Sunday's game, Harrison said, "We'll see. Day to day." . . . With Sunday's victory, Bill Belichick moved into fifth place on the all-time list for playoff wins, with 13 . . . Tom Brady carries a 23-1 record on artificial turf into Sunday's game at the RCA Dome . . . The Colts and Chargers were the only teams to post undefeated records at home in the regular season . . . The first-round pick the Patriots will receive from the Seahawks in the Deion Branch trade will be the 24th overall selection, according to the NFL.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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