- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There is a joke among Patriots players and Zoltan Mesko takes the brunt of it. It happens every time the team practices the "quick kick" pooch punt quarterback Tom Brady executed to perfection in the fourth quarter of the team's 45-10 playoff win over the Broncos on Saturday night.
When it works during practice, players turn to Mesko and blurt out the following words: "Salary cap!"
That's their way of ribbing him that if Brady keeps performing like that, the second-year punter might not be needed much longer and the team can spend his salary somewhere else.
Mesko, one of the more humorous players on the team, takes it all in stride. In fact, he was the one joking Saturday night how he's now second on the team's punting charts behind Brady. At least it's to another Michigan alum, he cracked.
Brady's 48-yard punt was one of the many things that had coaches and players smiling late Saturday night. It came with 3:10 remaining in the game, the Patriots leading 45-10 and facing a third-and-10.
Coach Bill Belichick explained the team didn't want to face the various punt rushes the Broncos had on fourth down, so the call was for the unusual quick kick. Brady was in the shotgun and he aced the assignment, the ball downed at the 10 because the Broncos didn't have anyone back to receive.
The successful play had Belichick reflecting on the only other time Brady punted in his NFL career, Dec. 7, 2003 at Miami. On that day, Brady's punt was downed at the 1, which led Belichick to joke Brady was slipping because Saturday night's was at the 10.
"I was disappointed we lost that field position," he said, smiling.
Brady said the team has been practicing the play for seven years and his hope was to land it inside the 5. It took an unnecessary roughness penalty for that to happen -- Broncos rookie Von Miller's cheap shot on offensive lineman Dan Connolly -- which Brady joked was exactly what he was looking for to make the punt look even better.
As for Mesko, he doesn't need to worry about job security.
The 2010 fifth-round draft choice finished third in the NFL in net punting during the regular season and delivered one of the unsung plays of Saturday's playoff win. Early in the second quarter, his terrific plus-50 punt rolled out of bounds at the 5.
After the defense had a three-and-out, it set the Patriots up at their own 48, and the offense responded with a touchdown to go up 21-7.
The Patriots never looked back, with Mesko's punt the catalyst.