By Levan Reid, WBZ-TV Sports

BOSTON (CBS) – In a championship game, everything has to be tight. From the offense to the defense, and especially, special teams.

Well, the Patriots special teams unit did not fare very well in their divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans. Houston returner Danieal Manning took the opening kickoff 94 yards, with set the tone for the rest of the afternoon for New England’s special teams unit. The Texans found themselves in good field position a couple of times last week, and that’s something that cannot happen again against the Ravens on Sunday.

The Patriot defense was able to bail out special teams last weekend against the Texans, and it started right after that opening kick. With a great chance to put some pressure on the Pats, Houston could only manage a field goal after Manning’s return. But that may not be the case against Baltimore and their Pro Bowl returner Jacoby Jones — who returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns this season.

Tale Of The Tape: Patriots vs. Ravens

“It’s very important,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said this week. “We need to perform better. We can’t put our defense in bad situations like that. Overall into the next game, we’ve got to prepare for Jacoby, and we know how good he is and what he is capable of. I’m confident we’ll have it fixed.”

“It’s a third of the game,” said head coach Bill Belichick, who always echoes the importance of “all three phases” of the game. “It’s important in field position. It’s important on the scoring opportunities as it relates to field goals and those scoring chances. Of course scores can come in other areas of special teams, but field position is key. I don’t know how much more we can stand up here and talk about it. We talk about it every week. It’s a huge part of the game.”

So how do the Patriots turn around their not-so-special teams?

“Just go back to the basics,” said Slater. “Go back to the fundamentals and the rules that we have as coverage players, and just doing our job better and doing our assignments better. It’s been a strength for us this season. Kickoff coverage has been a strength, and like I said, I’m confident that we’ll get it fixed.”

“We have to just be sound,” said safety Devin McCourty, who made a touchdown-saving tackle on the opening kick last weekend. “We can’t allow (Jones) to run around and make those big plays. He’s a very fast guy. If he breaks out I doubt we’ll be able to catch him, so it will be key to just try to contain him and keep him away from making those big plays on special teams because this time of year you really can’t afford to give up those huge plays.”

Vote: Patriots vs. Ravens Battleground Map

Tune in to the AFC Championship game at 6:30pm on Sunday on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ-TV, or LISTEN LIVE on! Pregame coverage begins on WBZ with Patriots GameDay at 11:30am, and at 3pm on 98.5 with Patriots Preview. Following the game, tune in to three hours of coverage on the Sports Hub, and to Patriots 5th Quarter over on myTV38.


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