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Friday, October 22, 2010
Highlighting hidden yardage

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Following up on Stephen Gostkowski's game-ball-winning performance against the Ravens, one aspect to highlight is Gostkowski's strong leg on kickoffs.

It ties in to hidden yardage -- and overall special teams play -- that can often be crucial in games.

Gostkowski had three touchbacks in six kickoffs against the Ravens, and he now has 13 touchbacks on the season (2nd in the NFL). When that is combined with the Patriots' strong kickoff return unit, the Patriots are winning the field-position battle.

Patriots opponents are starting drives, on average, at the 24.4 yard line. That ranks eighth-best in the NFL.

The Patriots, on average, are starting drives at the 33.1 yard line. That ranks second-best in the NFL.

"It’s the best special teams group we will have played against to this point," Chargers coach Norv Turner said of the Patriots. "I’m extremely impressed."

Meanwhile, the Chargers have had a disastrous start to the season on special teams. They've allowed two kickoff returns for touchdowns (both by Seattle's Leon Washington), one punt return for a touchdown (by the Chiefs' Dexter McCluster) and have had two punts blocked.

"There’s no question there’s a concern," Turner said. "We’ve been working hard to fix the problems we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of players shuffling in and out of here in terms of whether it’s injuries or getting the right guys to do what we need to do. We feel we’ve made improvement, obviously, from the first two or three games. This game will give us a little bit of a feel for how much we’ve improved."