A former Patriots punter has a theory about Bill Belichick’s preference for lefties

And it involves Gillette Stadium.

New England Patriots punter Ryan Allen during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)
New England Patriots punter Ryan Allen during a game in October at Gillette Stadium. –Winslow Townson / AP

Does Bill Belichick prefer left-footed punters? The Patriots coach won’t say.

However, since Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have started every single season with a lefty punter. Even if he won’t admit it, Belichick’s preference seems apparent. The question is why.

In an article this past week, Sports Illustrated tried to get inside the head of the Patriots mastermind.

The conventional theory has been that — in a league where the vast majority of punters are right footed — the reverse spin from a lefty’s punt is more difficult to catch and results in a higher percentage of muffed punts. Take, for example, that disastrous muffed Ryan Allen punt by Chargers returner Travis Benjamin back in October.

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And indeed, the stats appear to back in up. In the past five years, 3.1 percent of left-footed punts have been muffed compared to 2.5 percent of right-footed punts, according to an analysis by SI, while this season has seen a left-footed punt muff rate of 3.7 percent compared 2.9 percent off right-footed punts.

But is there more to it? Former Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko think so — and it has to do with Gillette Stadium. Per SI:

In our quest for answers about the left-footed tradition in New England, Mesko has an intriguing theory. In Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002, there is a dominant wind pattern. It comes in through the open end of the stadium, and blows across the field on the diagonal, from right to left. In other words, if you are facing the open end, and the goalposts are at 12 o’clock, the wind blows toward 8 o’clock. Belichick himself acknowledged this in November of Gillette’s inaugural season: “[The wind] runs part of the way down the field at the open end, at the lighthouse end, but then it seems to quarter more toward from the home bench [the right side of the field, if you’re facing the open end] to the visiting bench.”

Going this direction challenges punters and kickers, because the wind is in your face. But lefties have an important advantage: That right-to-left current accelerates the ball’s counterclockwise rotation, which means greater distance. In Week 17, for example, Allen hit a beautiful 52-yard punt into the wind in this direction, pinning the Jets at their own 14-yard line.

Going the opposite way, righties of course have the advantage. But because they’re then punting with the wind, the spin of the ball doesn’t make as much of a difference.

“That stadium is kind of made for lefties,” Mesko told SI.

According to magazine, the last three Patriots punters, including Mesko, say Belichick has never admitted a preference for lefties. But the theory isn’t completely farfetched.

It wouldn’t be the first time Belichick has tried to use the elements in Foxborough to gain a slight advantage. Remember that time he won the overtime coin toss against the Broncos and took the wind instead of the ball. Additionally, Belichick is known for his affinity for the intricacies of special teams and his appreciation for punters.

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In a press conference after the Patriots’ final regular season game earlier this month, Belichick gave a nearly 700-word answer to a question about coaching punting techniques.

“It’s great to be sitting here on Tuesday talking about all this punting,” he said.

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