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Lions punter Sam Martin is fine after precautionary trip to Chicago hospital

ALLEN PARK — Detroit Lions punter Sam Martin says he’s fine after taking a precautionary trip to the hospital after Sunday’s game in Chicago. He expects to play next week against Carolina.

Martin took a big blow from Joshua Bellamy while trying to cover a third-quarter punt in Sunday’s 34-22 loss against the Bears. He said he had some difficulty breathing, but declined to elaborate on his symptoms. He also sidestepped multiple questions about whether he was coughing up blood.

“It was just something alarming they wanted to check out,” Martin said. “Nothing ended up being (wrong).

“There was an issue that I had to make sure I was OK.”

Martin was able to gut out whatever was ailing him and finish the game. That includes successfully converting an onside kick in the fourth quarter, as Detroit tried to rally back. Charles Washington kept the ball inbounds, then Nick Bellore recovered it.

Since 2009, onside kicks have been recovered about 8 percent of the time. And the new NFL rules this season — the running start has been eliminated for the kicking team — makes them even harder to convert. Teams have been toying with new strategies, and this one worked beautifully for Martin and the Lions.

“We’ve been working on it for a while, and we have a few different options,” Martin said. “That one, in that situation, proved to be our best option and it worked. So we’re constantly working on that, being prepared for that situation, and it was nice to get one.”

It was a good play in what has been a difficult season for the Lions’ special teams. They’ve been so good for so long, but have regressed in most ways in 2018. They’re sixth in kick returns, but 24th in punt returns just one season after Jamal Agnew became a first-team All-Pro return man. (Of course, losing Agnew to injury hurts too.)

Their kickoff coverage team is allowing 23.9 yards per attempt, which is 24th. Their punt coverage team is allowing 20.4 yards per attempt, which is nearly double anyone else in the league. And that has hurt Martin’s numbers.

He’s had one of the biggest legs in the league since joining the Lions as a fifth-round pick in 2013. He has the four best net punting seasons in team history, and had the second-best net punting season in NFL history in 2016.

But he missed six games last year because of injury, and his numbers have suffered this season because of shoddy play by his coverage teams. The Lions are netting 37.8 yards per punt, which is 31st in the league.

And of course, there are the penalties, 15 in all. That’s tied for second most league wide.

It has been a tough year for the Lions special teams as a whole, and coordinator Joe Marciano — who coordinated some excellent special teams for the Lions over the years — was fired last week for it. 

“Just trying to get better every day, honestly,” Martin said. “Obviously we started about as bad as you could as a punt unit, so just trying to dig ourselves out of that hole. Every game, trying to get better. Just doing what we can. The coverage team’s getting better, I’m doing my best to get the best kicks for those guys getting down there to cover. Same thing with kickoff.” 

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