FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — In Scott O’Brien’s first year as special teams coach of the New England Patriots, his players didn’t block a single kick.
In his second year, the same player blocked two in 15 minutes on Monday night.
While the Miami Dolphins fired special teams coordinator John Bonamego after their 41-14 loss, Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised his assistant coach who guided the improvement in their kicking units.
“Any time that you’re with a group of players for a year, you just have a better understanding of their strengths, their weaknesses,” Belichick said Tuesday as the Patriots headed into their bye week. “There’s always new players involved, but there’s some key guys to work around.
“He does a very good job of not only evaluating our opponents but, more importantly, evaluating the players that are on this team and putting them in good position to get the most out of them.”
Patrick Chung was in the right place to block a punt and a field goal attempt against Miami. And Brandon Tate made the first big play on special teams when he returned the second-half kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown, erasing the Dolphins’ 7-6 halftime lead.
Chung blocked the punt less than two minutes later, leading to BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ 12-yard scoring run and a 20-7 lead.
Then with just 44 seconds gone in the fourth quarter, Chung blocked Dan Carpenter’s field goal attempt and Kyle Arrington returned the ball 35 yards for a touchdown. New England was up 34-14 as special teams play contributed to 21 points.
“We get through that gap on the line of scrimmage, then it could be any one of the eight guys rushing that could get the block” on the punt, Belichick said.
On the field goal attempt, he said, “there was that little gap there and the big thing was Patrick’s technique of getting through the line … and (getting) his hands up right behind the center, which is where the ball travels.”
Chung was an outstanding special teams player at Oregon before the Patriots drafted him in the second round last year. He’s also been a force on defense, starting three games at safety and one at cornerback. He started just one game last season.
On his two blocks, “It opened up just like coach drew it up on the board, so you execute and things like that happen. You just have to take advantage of the opportunity.”
O’Brien, who was Belichick’s special teams coach with Cleveland from 1991-95, might have been helped by watching a Dolphins punt that was blocked in their previous game by the New York Jets.
“Probably you take a little something out of every single game that you watch,” Belichick said.
The coaches will have plenty of time to study how the Patriots (3-1) have played so far this season during the bye week. Then they’ll focus on their next opponent, the Baltimore Ravens. New England will be at home Oct. 17 in the same stadium where Baltimore won 33-14 in the first round of the playoffs last season.
The Patriots likely will get more production out of Randy Moss. He didn’t make a catch for the first time in four years with the Patriots — and they still won by 27 points.
Tom Brady threw to him just once, on the next-to-last play before Stephen Gostkowski kicked a field goal as time expired in the first half. The short pass glanced off Moss’ hands in the front left corner of the end zone.
“The passing game (Monday) night is the same way the passing game has been for the last 10 years,” Belichick said. “You call a pass pattern, you have multiple receivers running various routes and, based on the coverage and the matchups, the quarterback decides where the best opportunity, leverage, space on the pattern is, and that’s who he throws to.
“That’s the way it always is. That’ll never really change.”