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Patriots' special teams slip from third to 11th in annual rankings

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick annually references the Dallas Morning News special teams rankings as a barometer of excellence, so when the rankings are released, it is noted at this address.

In 2015, the Patriots finished 11th, slipping from No. 3 last year.

The Patriots had some notable transitions this year on special teams, with assistant Joe Judge taking over for the retired Scott O'Brien, and Ray Ventrone hired as his assistant. Injuries made it a challenge for Judge and Ventrone to juggle their units, with the low point coming Dec. 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles when a blocked punt was returned for a touchdown, and Darren Sproles returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown.

Highlights include kicker Stephen Gostkowski earning All-Pro honors, snapper Joe Cardona’s rookie success, Danny Amendola’s 82-yard punt return against the Giants, and Keshawn Martin’s 75-yard kickoff return against the Titans, among others.

In the rankings, which are produced by Rick Gosselin, the league's 32 teams are ranked in 22 categories and assigned points according to their standing -- one for best, 32 for worst. The Baltimore Ravens earned the No. 1 spot for the 2015 season.

Using Gosselin's rankings as a springboard, here is the Patriots' special teams tackle leaderboard from 2015:

WR Matthew Slater -- 17 (16 solo, 1 assisted)

S Brandon King -- 12 (10 solo, 2 assisted)

S Nate Ebner -- 11 (9 solo, 2 assisted)

S Patrick Chung -- 3 (3 solo, 0 assisted)

LB Darius Fleming -- 3 (2 solo, 1 assisted)

LS Joe Cardona -- 3 (3 solo, 0 assisted)

LB Eric Martin -- 3 (3 solo, 0 assisted)