Now that the New England Patriots? 2009 season is officially over, it?s time to hand out the grades. Check out below to see who on the special teams will be hanging their report cards on the refrigerator and who will be forging their parents? signatures.
Earlier, NESN.com graded the Patriots? offense and defense. Make sure to come back to see the grades for the coaching staff and front office.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Field goal unit: B
Stephen Gostkowski converted 26 of 31 field goal attempts, and his 83.9 percent success rate was his worst since his rookie season in 2006. However, Gostkowski was 19-of-20 on field goals less than 40 yards, so he was pretty automatic with the kicks he was expected to make. Of Gostkowski?s five missed field goals, only one proved to be real damning. He pulled a 40-yarder that could have given the Patriots a 20-10 lead with less than six minutes remaining in the third quarter in Denver, where they eventually lost in overtime. Still, Gostkowski has been one of the most steady kickers in the league over the last four years, and there?s little reason to believe the Patriots won?t give him a new contract this offseason.
Punt returns: A-
Wes Welker was second in the NFL with 12.5 yards per return, and the Patriots averaged 11.4 yards per punt return as a team, which was fifth in the league. Even though they didn?t return any for a touchdown — only eight teams accomplished that, though — the Patriots were steady and responsible with the ball.
Chris Hanson was last in the NFL in punt average (39.7 yards) and net punting (34.7 yards), and opponents averaged 9.0 yards per return, which was the 12th-worst mark in the league. The Patriots had some strong gunners, including Kyle Arrington and Matt Slater, but it starts with Hanson, who had a poor year.
Kickoff returns: C-
They tried everything, but nothing provided any excitement and they hardly seemed like a threat to take one back for a score. As a team, New England was 15th in the NFL with 22.7 yards per return. Laurence Maroney led the Patriots with 13 kickoff returns, and they never had a chance to rely on one guy for the job. They hoped rookie wide receiver Brandon Tate could provide that spark, but he couldn?t overcome his knee injury. If the Browns fail to secure Josh Cribbs this offseason, the Patriots should make a play for the league?s best returner.
Kickoff coverage: B-
The Patriots allowed 24.4 yards per kickoff return, which was fifth-worst in the NFL. To put that in context, they were only 4.0 yards worse than the fifth-ranked Falcons, and that?s not overly bad. Also, consider the Patriots play in cold weather much of the season, and that greatly affects how high and far Gostkowski can kick the ball. The longest return against the Patriots this season was 51 yards, which makes them the fourth-best team in that regard.
Tune in to SportsDesk after the Bruins-Sharks game on Thursday night to get Ted Johnson's grades on the 2009 Patriots.