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Special teams could be X factor for Pats against Ravens


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — When the Ravens and Patriots have met in New England in recent years, it has usually been a close affair.

In the six games the Ravens have played at Gillette Stadium since coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008 they are 2-4, with their four defeats coming by average of four points. That includes a 35-31 loss in the division round of the playoffs in 2015.

Such tight games typically leave little room for error. That means special teams play could play a big role Monday night.

For the Patriots that would shine a light on two players in particular: kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punt returner Cyrus Jones.

Gostkowski had a rocky start to the season by his standards, missing three extra points. It marked the first time since his rookie season in 2006 that he had missed even a single extra point. He also has misfired on four field goals — his most misses since 2012.

But after going 4 for 4 on field goals in Sunday’s win over the Rams — including three makes of 45 or more yards — the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week feels like he is trending in the right direction.

“It’s a start. It’s one game,” Gostkowski said. “Every week is a different challenge. You just got to battle, keep your head down, stay humble and show up, but control your attitude and your effort. And make sure both of those are good and have faith in the process that what you’ve been doing is going to continue.”

Confidence has been lacking for Jones, who can’t shake himself free of the fumbles that cloud his rookie season.

New England didn’t have a first-round draft pick this year as part of its “Deflategate” punishment. But it used its second-round pick on Jones, who had returned four punts for touchdowns as a senior at Alabama.

But in nine punt returns this season, Jones is averaging only 4.7 yards and has four fumbles. After a muffed punt in the win over Los Angeles, he was replaced by Danny Amendola, who promptly suffered an ankle injury that could keep him sidelined this week.

A subdued Jones took ownership of his struggles before practice on Wednesday, and said that despite his issues he’s still hoping to get more chances to prove himself.

“I’ll just take whatever opportunities I get,” Jones said. “Danny’s out, so somebody has to get back there and try to do it.”

He said there’s no magic to breaking out of his current funk, adding that once he can get over the initial step of catching the ball cleanly, he can run with it.

“That’s the easy part,” he said.

In the meantime he’s still trying to mend fences with the coaching staff. A big night against the Ravens would certainly aid that.

“It’s tough to gain the trust of the coaches when you keep going out there and keep muffing punts and doing things like that,” he said. “So it’s on me. The coaches keep giving me opportunities because they know what I can do… once I get the bad football eliminated.”

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