The New England Patriots believe there is a possibility that injured punter Ryan Allen will be able to play in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, depending on how his shoulder responds to aggressive treatment over the course of the week, according to sources.
The plan with Allen, while fluid, reflects why the Patriots have not had any free-agent punters in for workouts as of 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Allen suffered a sprained AC joint, sources said, when he was tackled by multiple Indianapolis Colts players while running down a high snap in the second quarter of last Saturday’s AFC divisional round playoff game. The play resulted in a safety and Allen took the ensuing free kick (a solid 68-yard effort) before leaving the game for good. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski took over the punting duties.
Should Allen punt in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, one of the greater concerns for the Patriots would be his ability to reach up to corral a high snap. Thus, the accuracy of third-year snapper Danny Aiken would take on added importance.
Also, Allen serves as the team’s holder for field goals, a role that quarterback Tom Brady assumed after Allen was knocked out of Saturday’s game. There is a possibility that Allen could punt Sunday, but not serve as the holder. Brady or backup quarterback Ryan Mallett would be top options to replace him.
Allen, a two-time Ray Guy Award winner at Louisiana Tech, joined the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in May and won a training camp competition over incumbent Zoltan Mesko. A left-footed punter, he finished 14th in the NFL in average (45.9) and 16th in net (39.9). His 12 touchbacks led the NFL.
The Patriots, as much as any team in the NFL, place a greater emphasis on directional and situational punting under veteran coach Scott O’Brien.
Asked about Allen’s availability on Sunday, head coach Bill Belichick said, “We’ll put out the injury report [Wednesday] after practice like we usually do.”
Belichick also said it’s possible Gostkowski could once again handle both kicking and punting duties, or the team could still bring in a free-agent punter, although the lack of movement at this point would seem to make that less likely.
In November, the Patriots worked out punters Shawn Powell and Robert Malone as part of their emergency list preparations at the time. Mesko, who could have been an obvious replacement, isn’t an option because he’s still under contract to the Cincinnati Bengals after signing with them in the wild-card round of the playoffs.