FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Brandon Bolden figured he’d have to make an impact on special teams with the New England Patriots after a solid career as a college running back.
Undrafted rookies don’t get the ball very often in the NFL. “I was like, ‘Hey I’m an undrafted guy. I’ve got to do whatever I can. So you need somebody to run down on punts? Hey, coach, I can do it. You need somebody to run down on kickoffs? Hey, coach I can do it,'” Bolden said Wednesday.
His latest impact came when he crashed into San Diego’s Mike Scifres after blocking a punt in the second quarter of New England’s 23-14 win Sunday night. Scifres broke his left clavicle on the play.
“I just timed it very well. I got off before anybody could even move and it turned out to be perfect,” Bolden said. “I got up under (the blocker) and the next thing you know, I’m standing in front of the punter with his leg in the air. I said, ‘I got to get this ball down.'”
The Patriots took over at the Chargers 25 and scored four plays later on Tom Brady’s 14-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots special teams have had several big plays as the team has navigated toward a 10-3 record and the top spot in the AFC.
Chandler Jones blocked a field goal attempt against Minnesota and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown, while Bolden forced a fumble on a kickoff return against Cincinnati that was returned for a score. Aganst Detroit, an 81-yard kickoff return set up a touchdown run for LeGarrette Blount.
“It takes all 11 guys to make special teams work,” Bolden said.
Ryan Allen, who saw his first punt of the season blocked, on Wednesday was named AFC special teams player of the week.
“It’s field position and all that plays a big part in the game, just like the blocked punt,” Bolden said. “Those times when we pin the team inside the 20 or inside the 10-yard line, that’s a big momentum shift.”
Special teamers rarely get the recognition of offensive and defensive players. But Bolden learned the significance of that role when he joined the team in 2012 out of Mississippi and played on special teams with Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman and Danny Woodhead.
“I had those old guys in my ear, kind of just teaching me along the way,” Bolden said, “and here I am today.”
Slater has made three Pro Bowls as a special teams player. And Bolden saw it wasn’t the end of the line when Edelman became one of the NFL’s top receivers and Woodhead contributed at running back.
“I was following those guys’ trails,” Bolden said, “like, hey, you know what, this is not that bad. I could hang around. I could run around for a few plays not with the ball in my hand.”
Bolden’s offensive opportunities have diminished. In 2012, he rushed for 274 yards. Last year, he rushed for 271 yards and caught 21 passes. This season, he has just 41 yards rushing and two receptions.
But special teamers make plays that can’t be measured in numbers, fighting off two-on-one blocks, forcing fumbles and beating a lineman off the snap to block a punt.
In talking with opponents and with teammates who have played elsewhere, Bolden learned that not all special team players are as dedicated as those on the Patriots.
“Some guys just don’t want it as bad” on other teams, he said, “but here, this group, we want it just as bad as offense and defense.”