FOXBOROUGH — There was very little worth remembering from the Patriots’ 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last Monday.
The most memorable play came on the Patriots’ first possession, in which they went three-and-out. Special teams captain Matthew Slater raced down the field to cover Ryan Allen’s punt and tackled Chiefs returner Frankie Hammond for no gain.
Slater is quick to say he wasn’t the star of the play. Instead, he defers to Allen, whose booming kick traveled 59 yards to the Kansas City 27-yard line.
“Any of those plays that were made, it’s really him making the plays,” Slater said Thursday at Gillette Stadium.
“He doesn’t get enough credit for the job he’s doing and he should because he’s doing a tremendous job. Punter is one of those positions – you don’t know the punter’s name until he starts shanking the balls off.”
Such is the life of an NFL punter, often overlooked and underappreciated until things go wrong.
Allen, who went undrafted out of Louisiana Tech, is quietly emerging as one of the top punters in the NFL. Entering Sunday, Allen was tied with Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt, the NFL’s highest-paid punter, and San Diego’s Mike Scifres for the league lead with 10 punts downed inside the 20.
Sunday night, the Patriots faced a tough test against Cincinnati and Allen was being counted on to hem the Bengals on their side of the field.
“He’s really worked hard this offseason, and it’s been huge for us,” Slater said. “Controlling field position is such a huge part of the game and he’s really a weapon when it comes to that.”
Last season was a whirlwind for Allen, who beat out Zoltan Mesko for the starting role as a rookie. He ranked first in the NFL with 12 touchbacks, 10th with 29 punts inside the 20, and 16th with a net average of 39.9 yards per punt.
Allen had a breakout game in Week 2 of his rookie season when he punted 11 times in the Patriots’ 13-10 win against the Jets, averaging 46.7 yards per punt.
“It’s a little different not being rookie, but other than just gaining experiences and stuff like that, we had a couple of games where we had a few more reps than we were accustomed to earlier in the season last year,” Allen said.
“Things are more comfortable. We’re starting to work together at a high rate and things look good.”
When Allen reflects on his rookie season, it conjures memories of his roundabout journey to the NFL.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pounder focused on playing shooting guard for the basketball team at West Salem High School in Oregon, and didn’t play football until his friends nudged him into trying it his junior year.
“It’s crazy. I was playing basketball and a bunch of my friends were playing football and they didn’t have a kicker, so I figured I could pick it up easily,” said Allen.
“The rest is history. It’s crazy how it unfolds. I’m blessed.”
Allen played soccer until high school and said that background helped him transition to punting. He enrolled at Oregon State and walked on to the team but was locked behind current Rams punter Johnny Hekker on the depth chart. He transferred to Louisiana Tech, where he won the Ray Guy Award in 2011 and 2012, becoming the first player to claim the award in back-to-back seasons.
“[Hekker] and I walked on together, but he won the job so they gave him a scholarship,” Allen said. “My second year, I said I’d stay, but . . . I wanted my release papers. I was getting better and I was seeing improvements.”
As the Patriots offense has struggled this season, they’ve been backed up in their own end and it’s been important for Allen to flip the field on the opponent.
In the second quarter against Kansas City, Allen launched a punt 55 yards from the New England 34 and Nate Ebner downed it at the Chiefs’ 11.
Against Oakland in Week 3, Allen boomed one 53 yards to the Oakland 18 from the Patriots’ 29.
Of course, Allen recognizes that his success hinges on the cohesion of the special teams unit.
“It goes hand-in-hand,” he said. “Everybody needs to be doing their job well. If I don’t do my job, it doesn’t give them an opportunity to make a play and vice versa. We’re called upon whenever we’re needed, we can’t control where we’re at on the field when we go out there. Whenever we are, we need to go out there and execute.”email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gulizia_a