When the decision was made at the beginning of the season to let Zoltan Mesko go in favor of rookie punter Ryan Allen, it was certainly one that caught the eye of many Patriots fans who had a tough time seeing the team part ways with the popular now-former Patriot.

However, as usual, Bill Belichick has once again ended up making a decision that has proven to be the correct one.


Ryan Allen has quietly been a big key to New England’s success this season.
(USA TODAY Images)

This season Ryan has been rock solid, and he’s quietly been an unsung hero during the Patriots 9-3 start.  He’s changed the field position of opponents several times this year when New England was backed up deep in their own territory, including the Denver game, which was probably his shining moment.  He kicked three huge punts in tough conditions in that game, including one at the end of regulation with both teams deadlocked at 31-31, he boomed a kick 50 yards when they were backed up at their own 29-yard line.  Denver never made it to midfield, and it was a key part of forcing overtime.

In overtime he was just as clutch, hitting another 51 yarder to pin Denver at their 13-yard line, which also made things tougher on Peyton Manning to get anything going, and then he hit a second that came down at the Broncos’ 15 yard line that was muffed and led to their game winning field goal.

This past weekend we saw it again. With :22 seconds left in the game and the Patriots up by just three points, his punt landed at the Houston 5-yard line and then rolled around for some additional seconds that left the Texans pretty helpless as they watched more precious time tick off the clock.

Former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan talked about that play this morning in this week’s Grogan’s Grade (Now Available).

“I was a little surprised the officials didn’t go ahead and blow the whistle and call it dead,” said Grogan on Ryan’s final punt Sunday.  “They kind of let it sit there for a little longer than you would expect to normally see. But it’s discouraging for a team that thinks they might have a shot at taking a throw down the field to try to get back in the game, to see a punter pin them back like that and then run time off the clock, that’s very discouraging to a team.”

Grogan also mentioned the fact the move to keep Ryan was surprising at first, but it’s certainly paid off.

“It was an interesting decision when they let Mesko go, and I think it surprised everybody,” said Grogan.  “But Allen’s done the job and he seems to be getting better every week. “He’s making a lot less money than Mesko was, so I’m sure that had a lot to do with the decision and it’s paid off for Belichick, particularly the defense. He’s helped that defense by pinning people back and making them have a long field against a defense that’s kind of struggled at times this year. Anytime you have a punter that can do that for you, your defense is very thankful.”

As a punter Ryan’s play is kind of an afterthought, but the fact he’s shown so much poise as a rookie has been pretty incredible. In fact, looking at his numbers, he’s quietly among the league leaders.  According to ProFootballFocus.com, he’s hit 20 punts this season that were downed inside the 20 yard line, which has him tied with three others for the 9th highest total in the league.  He’s also had just 37.3% of his punts returned this year, tied with Cincinnati’s Kevin Huber for the 7th lowest total in the league.  He also has 10 touchbacks, the most in the NFL and 13 punts that were downed, which is the second highest total in the league.  The latter stat can certainly be attributed to New England’s terrific special teams unit, but it’s hard not to give Ryan credit for being so consistent.  Considering the environment and the elements, he’s been more or less flawless.

Special teams is always a key factor and heading into the postseason being able to have the best field position is always important.  Fortunately for New England, they put their hopes on Ryan, who so far continues to get it done every week.

FORMER PATRIOT MATT LIGHT TACKLING VODKA IN RETIREMENT

Former left tackle Matt Light is now a spokesperson for KEEL Vodka, and has teamed up with the founders of KEEL Vodka to spread the 58-calorie per shot liquor throughout New England. Light, who was certainly known for his attention to detail as a player here in New England, said in a Q&A with the Boston Globe that he’s using that same approach in the business world with his new endeavor.

“The things we were able to do in New England and the attention to detail and the work that we put into it, that’s what made it successful,” said Light in the interview. “I’m trying to translate that mentality to the real world, as I like to call it.” The light vodka is 24 percent alcohol, as opposed to 40 percent in others.

Light said back in September that people still want to go out and have a good time but are definitely more health-conscious, and that’s his reason for being affiliated with the brand.

“Now people want to have options,” he said. “They want to look at healthier ways of going out and enjoying themselves. They want to stay balanced. That’s what we represent.”

Light becomes the second retired Patriot to get involved in this type of business. Former Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe established his “Doubleback Wine” business following his own retirement and seems to be doing well in his home state of Washington. It appears his former teammate at least for now seems to have the Vodka world covered as well.

BELICHICK WOULD LIKE TO BE ABLE TO CHALLENGE CALLS:

Following a couple of controversial endings this season, Belichick said on Tuesday that he’d like the ability to be able to use the allotted challenges on whatever two plays coaches see fit in an effort to try and make sure they’re “officiated properly”.

“I think when you have two challenges, not that I’ve challenged anything this year, but when you have two challenges, I don’t see anything wrong with the concept of, ‘You can challenge any two plays you want,'” Belichick told the media on Tuesday. “I understand that judgment calls are judgment calls. But to say that an important play can’t be reviewed, I don’t think that’s really in the spirit of, ‘Let’s try to get everything right and make sure that the most important plays are officiated properly.'”

Belichick feels that giving teams that ability would help in trying to simplify the game and get the important plays right.

“I’m just saying in the whole idea of simplifying the game and trying to get the important plays right, I wouldn’t have any problem if any play was open to a challenge, understanding if it’s not conclusive, then it’s not conclusive and the ruling on the field would stand. But that’s the way it is anyway. I think it would make it a lot simpler in my mind.”

EVEN IN RETIREMENT, FAVRE TORTURES PEOPLE WITH INDECISION:

Many fans who followed Brett Favre’s yearly soap operas surrounding whether or not he would/wouldn’t return each season will be pleased to know that he’s still just as bad now that he’s retired.

According to USA TODAY Favre is coaching high school football for Oak Grove High School near his home in Hattiesburg Mississippi and is trying to win a high school state championship this weekend.

Favre, who is the offensive coordinator for the team, is in his second year coaching there but he’s saying he’s unsure if he’ll be back after this season.

“Who knows if I’ll do it next year,” Favre told USA TODAY. “I really don’t know. It’s been a lot of fun. I enjoy it. It’s easy and it’s not too time-consuming.”

Some things never change.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Patriots Take 2: Tom Brady shredded Wade Phillips blitz in shootout - Erik Frenz – Frenz has his film breakdown from Sunday’s game and looks at how the Patriots were able to take advantage of Houston’s defense.

Patriots were fortunate to hold on against Texans – Ben Volin – Volin has this morning’s “On Football” column and writes that for the first time all season, Bill Belichick couldn’t figure out how to slow down the opposing offense.

Browns’ Josh Gordon has been unstoppable - Ben Volin – Volin looks at Browns receiver Josh Gordon, who despite the Brown’s woes this season has been one one of the most productive receivers in the NFL and is second with 1,249 receiving yards.

In retirement, Matt Light’s tackling vodka – Glenn Yoder – Yoder has a Q&A with the former Patriots tackle, who is now a partner at KEEL vodka, a Newport, R.I.-based company.

BOSTON HERALD:

Notebook: Pats ‘D’ won’t miss trick prepping for Browns - Karen Guregian – Guregian files her notebook this morning, which leads off with the fact that the identity of the Browns quarterback isn’t yet known as Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell are both sidelined with concussions.

NFL experts help get drop on Stevan Ridley situation – Karen Guregian – Guregian has comments from several other former NFL coaches on how the Patriots should handle Ridley’s troubles.

ESPN BOSTON:

Catching up with former Patriots, Week 13 - Mike Reiss – Reiss has his weekly look at former Patriots players, including Jermaine Cunningham who dressed for the first time with the Jets in a 23-3 home loss over the weekend.

Hoyer’s return would have added spice - Mike Reiss – Reiss looks at the possibility of former Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer coming back to Foxboro for this game had he not gotten hurt.

ESPN CLEVELAND:

Bill Belichick’s legacy with the Browns is still being felt 20 years later – Tony Grossi – Grossi writes that it’s been 20 years since Bill Belichick fired Bernie Kosar during the middle of the 1993 Browns season.

THE REPUBLICAN:

Grading the Patriots vs. Texans: Halftime adjustments key New England win – Nick Underhill – Underhill has his grades this morning after his film review and doesn’t have great marks for the defense.

PATRIOT LEDGER:

PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK: Who will throw to Browns’ Gordon? – Glen Farley – Farley looks at Cleveland’s current quarterback situation and who may start for the Browns this wekeend.

Patriots’ Edelman cashes in as receptions pile up - Glen Farley – Farley writes that after reaching the 70-reception mark with his nine receptions Sunday, it triggered a $250,000 incentive in the one-year deal he signed in April.

PROVIDENCE JOURNAL

Patriots Journal: Replay rules a challenge for Belichick – Paul Kenyon – Kenyon has comments from Belichick, who feels coaches should be able to challenge whatever two plays they want, even if it means having judgement calls reviewed.