O-Line demonstrates depth

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O-Line demonstrates depth

FOXBORO -- Just 90 minutes before the opening kickoff of Saturday's game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium, Patriots players were informed that offensive tackle Matt Light wouldn't be playing because of an ankle injury.

So the first thing Bill Belichick did was move guard Logan Mankins to the outside, into Light's usual role as left tackle. The next thing Belichick did was inform Donald Thomas that he'd be making his first start since 2009, in Mankins' position.

Turns out, Mankins didn't last long, leaving the game -- and never returning -- late in the first quarter with a knee injury. That forced New England's hand to move Nate Solder to left tackle, and place Marcus Cannon at right tackle.

"Matt's ankle was, he just wasnt able to push off on it, so we were scrambling around there," said Belichick after the game. "And then Logan played a few plays and then he went out, so we had to take what was left."

As you would expect, the game of musical chairs on the Patriots' offensive line wasn't a perfect transition. Brady was sacked twice and knocked down three times in the first quarter.
Thomas described the first half as "chaotic."

"I was just told before the game to be ready to go," said Thomas after the game. "And then we went out there and it's game time, and you're up. That was it, basically. I don't know what's going on with anybody. I was just told to be ready to go when I got in this morning. And I just had to roll with it."

The Patriots' offensive line struggled in the first half, just like the rest of the team, and Miami went into halftime with a 17-0 lead.

Tom Brady was pressured at times in the second half, but clearly had more time to make plays, thanks to the improvements made on the offensive line.

Those improvements came in a three-step process. First, get the communication in order. Second, trust each other to do your own job. Third, trust the system.

The new-look offensive line did all three in the second half, and it helped New England's offense surge to a 27-24 win, securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.

"To lose Matt Light an hour-and-a-half before the game, and then to lose Logan Mankins the first or second series of the game, a lot of guys really stepped in, played hard, and played for 60 minutes," said Brady after the win. "That's what it took today.

"They're tough, they're very well coached," added Brady on his offensive line. "They have a lot of pride and work extremely hard. So anytime you have those qualities as players or as a group, you learn to fight through adversity, and they've done that all year."

They did it with different personnel in different positions on Saturday. And they did it because, in New England, and especially under offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, everybody was prepared as if they were going to play. And once they got the communication down, it was all about trust.

"If you've been around here this year, the one thing that you should know -- and again, it goes to the depth of this football team, and the professionalism of this football team -- is, you never know when it's your turn," said Patriots veteran offensive lineman Brian Waters. "If you're dressed, you prepare all week. You've got to be prepared to play, no matter what position you're in, no matter where you are on the depth chart.

"If you put those pads on, you've got to respect that, at some point of the season, you're going to be asked to play. You just never know when it is. So you've always got to be prepared.

"Everybody on this offensive line really cares about the other guys, because that's the way they prepare," added Waters. "At some point, you're going to be called on. If you're not prepared, and you're not ready to go, that means you don't care about the other guys next to you. And on the flip side, you've got to trust that guy. And that's what happened in the second half."

Bovada: Brady third in MVP race behind Elliot, Carr

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Bovada: Brady third in MVP race behind Elliot, Carr

Tom Brady has racked up some impressive numbers over eight games, but are they enough to surpass Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott or Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the MVP race?

The Patriots have gone 7-1 since Brady returned from his four-game suspension to start the year, and the league's all-time winningest quarterback has completed 68.9 percent of his passes in that stretch (third in the league) for 2,470 yards. He has 19 touchdowns, he's been picked once, and he is averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (third), giving him a 113.1 quarterback rating (first). 

According to Bovada, he's currently the third-best bet to win MVP at 15/2, down from 4/1 last week. Ahead of him? Both Elliott (12/5) and Carr (7/2). 

The Carr comparison is an interesting one for obvious reasons. Because they play the same position, it's easier to match up their stats. In 12 games, Carr has completed 65.5 percent of his passes (12th) for 3,375 yards (fourth), 24 touchdowns (seventh) and five interceptions. He's averaging 7.4 yards per attempt (15th), and  he has a rating of 100.3 (seventh).

While Carr has the statistical advantage of playing in four more games than Brady has, he's also led his team to a record of 10-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC at the moment. (The Raiders hold the strength-of-victory tiebreaker edge over the Patriots, who are also 10-2.)

Meanwhile, Elliott, the talented rookie out of Ohio State who has the benefit of running behind arguably the league's best offensive line, has racked up 263 carries for 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He's also posted 28 catches for 322 yards and a score. He leads the league in total rush yards, he's second in the league in rushing touchdowns behind Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, and he's fourth in yards per attempt (4.9).

Gronkowski nominated for Walter Payton Man of the Year Award

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Gronkowski nominated for Walter Payton Man of the Year Award

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski is up for one of the NFL's most prestigious awards, and it's not simply for what he's done while on the football field. 

The Patriots tight end is the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, it was announced on Wednesday. Each year the award recognizes one player for his excellence on and off the field.

“We’re proud to honor these outstanding men who represent the NFL’s best on and off the field,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. “Our players have a unique platform to make a difference far beyond the field of play. We salute these individuals who are exemplary in their commitment to making a positive impact in communities across the globe through their dedicated service and philanthropic efforts.”

The winner will be announced in Houston on the night before Super Bowl LI.

Gronkowski was named the 14th Patriots Ron Burton Community Service Award winner in August.

"Rob is just as fun to watch at a community event as he is on the game field," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said at the time. "Giving back to the community is a big part of being 'Gronk.' "