Mankins back to work, hoping to go in opener

Mankins back to work, hoping to go in opener

By Tom E. Curran

FOXBORO - Ready for the Titans?

Logan Mankins wasn't ready to say that. But the Patriots Pro Bowl guard, who's appearance at practice Sunday night was a big hurdle in his return from ACL surgery, does appear to be ahead of schedule for the season opener in Tennessee.

Mankins had his surgery soon after the season ended. Sunday was his first practice action - albeit in shirts and shells - since the Super Bowl.

Mankins said he "knew something was wrong with (the right knee)" by the end of the season but said the extent of the damage "was a little surprising."

Mankins said, "I'm not gonna get into when it happened. It happened a long time ago. A lot longer than you would have thought it happened."

Makings also says he injured his left knee while playing left tackle for a short time last season.

That Mankins played with a tear in his ACL appeared to leave some media members aghast.

They weren't around when former Patriots corner Jimmy Hitchcock played for the team without ACLs. At all. So it's not routine but it's not entirely unheard of either. Especially in a non-skill position like offensive line that doesn't require sharp cutting.

"I could still run...," Mankins answered when asked why he continued to play with hurt knees.

Being on the exercise bike instead of the practice field was a weird switch, Mankins said.

"I've never been hurt really, so not being out at practice wasn't something I enjoyed very much," he admitted. "In years past I was always one of the guys that made fun of the guys that got hurt, now I got hurt. I always felt like we were here to do a job and you should be practicing and playing. But the first couple of weeks being hurt it was tough not to be out there.

Asked if he'll be ready for the opener, Mankins said, "I'd like to think I would be able to but I don't know.

"It's been a weird camp," Mankins allowed. "A lot of guys coming in for one day (on the offensive line) then they're getting hurt, it's been a lot of shuffling parts in there. I think there were a few practices we only had eight or nine guys, that's tough not having enough for two lines."

With Mankins edging closer to his return, the next prodigal guard may be Brian Waters. Asked when he expects Waters - who is on an excused absence - to come back, Mankins answered, "You know as much as I do. I don't know when he's coming. Or if he is. Or what's going on. That might be between him and Bill (Belichick)."

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

The Patriots and Raiders and neck-and-neck as the race for home field in the AFC turns for home. And, with four games left, the Raiders are ahead by a nose. The tiebreakers between the 10-2 teams in play currently? Common games followed by strength of victory. 

The first tiebreaker – conference record – is a deadlock as both teams are 7-1 in the AFC (the Brady-less Patriots lost to the Bills back in Week 4.

After conference record, it's the teams record in common games. 

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

So far in common games with the Texans and Bills, the Patriots have gone 2-1 and the Raiders have gone 2-0. The Patriots play the Ravens next week. Oakland beat them. The Patriots play Denver after that. Oakland beat them as well but have one more game against Denver in Week 17.

So if it comes down to common games the Patriots really need to win these next two games.

Or hope the Raiders stub their toe a time or two in their final four games which are at the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos with a home game against Indy in Week 16.

As for strength of victory, that too goes to Oakland at this point. The Raiders’ strength of victory is at .471. The Patriots’ is at .370.

But the tiebreaker that kicks in after conference record and before strength of victory – common games – is very much unresolved.The remaining picture as it stands right now? The Ravens are the No. 3 seed with a 7-5 record that leads the AFC North. The Texans’ 6-6 record is good enough to lead the AFC South. The 9-3 Chiefs are the top Wild Card. The 8-4 Broncos are the No. 6 seed.

The Patriots play the Ravens and Broncos over the next two weeks. Currently, the Dolphins (7-5) and Steelers (7-5) are on the outside looking in.

The Titans (6-6) will have a chance to get even with the Texans in Week 17 in head-to-head matchups but they host Denver and play at Kansas City the next two weeks so they have obstacles to clear before they get there.