FOXBOROUGH — The generation gap explained why Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko drew a blank when asked if he knew anything about the Maytag Repairman, the TV commercial character known for his lonely lament about his seldom-used services, which were hardly needed because of the quality of his brand’s appliances.
A smile creased Mesko’s face when he was told he was the Maytag Repairman of NFL punters, because his services have seldom been needed this season.
Mesko, 26, a third-year pro out of Michigan, is averaging 42.4 yards on just 37 punts — a little more than three per game.
“I guess it’s good when you have a quality product,’’ Mesko said, referring to the Patriots’ league-leading offense. “You get to win and have fun.’’
But in no way was Mesko suggesting that he spends his time between service calls idling on the sideline, engaging in chit-chat with kicker Stephen Gostkowski and long snapper Danny Aiken.
“With a position like a specialist, you can’t make your own opportunity,’’ said Gostkowski, who relies on Mesko to serve as his holder. “You’ve just got to be ready to do them, and Zoltan definitely works very, very hard for what he has to do. You can’t control a team with a good offense that doesn’t punt a lot, so that’s no fault to him.
“For him to continue to keep the same work ethic and sometimes only get 2-3 punts a game — where other punters get like 10 punts a game — I would say it’s a lot harder to kick a punt when you don’t get to do it a lot, because you just don’t get to develop the same confidence and rhythm and timing that you do when you get to kick a lot.’’
When a punter doesn’t get the opportunity to demonstrate his prowess, it might become a challenge to maintain focus.
But Mesko said, “Well, it hasn’t become [a challenge] because it’s been going on for three years, so we’ve been averaging the same. We’re on the same pace for the past two years. It’s just the same.
“A lot of people say, if you have 10 punts, ‘Well, did your leg get tired?’ Well, no it doesn’t because you are swinging your leg at the same rate on the sideline. You’re going into the net — whether you get 10 extra punts on the field is not a difference, physically.’’
Mesko said his routine never wavers during games.
“Third down, you go over there [to the net], then you complete something on third and 10 or third and medium, then you’re back into your routine,’’ he said. “I probably take about 30-40 punts during pregame, and we probably do a couple into the net every set of downs, so you do the math.’’
In the 59-24 romp against the Indianapolis Colts Nov. 18 at Gillette Stadium, Mesko punted just twice, averaging 57 yards. He didn’t attempt his first punt until the third quarter, but he made it count, uncorking a 61-yarder.
“Actually, that one didn’t feel well,’’ Mesko said. “It just goes to show you how funny things work out. Sometimes, you don’t even try and it goes far, and sometimes you try really hard and it doesn’t go far, it just dribbles off your foot.”
It was his second-longest punt of the season, but his longest on US soil, trailing the 62-yarder he recorded in a 45-7 romp over the St. Louis Rams in London’s Wembley Stadium Oct. 28. In the three games before the Thanksgiving night matchup against the Jets, Mesko averaged two punts a game and 49.3 yards a kick.
He was needed three times on Thanksgiving — despite the fact that the Patriots belted the Jets, 49-19 — and averaged 41.7 yards.
Even though he is used so infrequently, Mesko never loses his concentration, as evidenced by that second punt against the Colts.
“I feel like he’s done a real good job of staying ready during the game,’’ Gostkowski said. “You know the last kick he had in the Colts game? He had about a minute left and no one really noticed it, but he had like a great kick and put them on the 4.
“Sometimes, a lot of guys are checked out by that point when you’re up by 30-something points. But for him to go out there and do something like that just shows his concentration level.
“You have to be mentally tough at our position when you only get a few opportunities and then you have to make sure you take advantage of them.’’
So far this season, Mesko has done precisely that during those rare punting occasions.
“My one thing is to take advantage of every opportunity,’’ he said. “Squeeze the most yardage out of every opportunity and pin them back so the defense can kind of carry the momentum into it and get the ball back for us.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.