How Under-The-Radar Roster Move Paid Off For Patriots Vs. Colts

'That was actually good for Marcus to be able to handle those lefty punts'


Nov 7, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots’ decision to sign veteran punter Michael Palardy to their practice squad two weeks ago was viewed as an ominous sign for the struggling Jake Bailey.

But it wound up benefiting a different New England specialist.

Palardy, unlike Bailey and most other NFL punters, is left-footed. His punts spin in the opposite direction, and that can be difficult for inexperienced returners to adjust to. It’s likely part of why the Patriots, before drafting Bailey in 2019, always favored lefty punters.

Catching punts from Palardy in practice allowed rookie return man Marcus Jones to familiarize himself with that unique spin pattern. That proved helpful Sunday when the Patriots faced the Indianapolis Colts and their left-footed punter, Matt Haack.

Jones fielded five Haack punts cleanly and turned one into an explosive 23-yard return as the Patriots rode smothering defense and opportunistic special teams to a 26-3 victory at Gillette Stadium.

“This was kind of a big challenge for him this week with the left-footed punter,” head coach Bill Belichick explained in his postgame news conference. “It’s something we really haven’t seen all year. You can kind of put the JUGS (machine) in the opposite direction and all that, (but it’s) not really the same. We brought Michael here, Palardy, and that was actually good for Marcus to be able to handle those lefty punts out in the kind of windy practice conditions all week.

“So I think that that helped him, as well. One of those little things, and Palardy did a good job. I think it helped Marcus’ ball handling on a left-footed punter.”

Jones, who tied the NCAA record for kick/punt return touchdowns in college, has emerged as a real return-game weapon for the Patriots of late. He ripped off a 32-yard punt return in last week’s win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium and also picked up 32 yards on his lone kickoff return against Indianapolis. Jones did not open the season as New England’s top option in either spot, but nine weeks in, the third-round draft pick leads the NFL in kick return average (24.3) and ranks fourth in yards per punt return (13.4).

“He’s gotten better every week,” Belichick said.

Time will tell whether Palardy’s presence will have any impact on Bailey, who struggled again Sunday after turning in his best performance of the season against the Jets. A first-team All-Pro in 2020, Bailey ranks last among qualified punters in both average and net average entering Week 10.

Thumbnail photo via Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports Images
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