Patriots ready for the same old Manning in Week 5

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Patriots ready for the same old Manning in Week 5

FOXBORO -- You know how it goes. Just a day after Sunday's win over the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots have already moved on to their next opponent, the Denver Broncos.

And of course, the Broncos are now led by old friend Peyton Manning, who makes his return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday, after missing the entire 2011 season.

Four weeks in, Manning has led the Broncos to a 2-2 record, while throwing for 1,162 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.

It looks as if Manning hasn't missed a beat.

"Well, I mean, I'm not that surprised," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Monday. "He's a pretty smart guy. He's got a lot of experience. He's got good skills. There are a number of other players that have missed a year with an injury and have come back the next year and are able to play at a high level. It's about what I would have expected him to be at.

"I'm not saying that I'm really excited about having to face him again," Belichick later added. "But, you've got to play somebody. Everybody's good in this league. Everybody has good skills. There's good players, good coaches, good teams. So, it's out of our control. Whoever our opponent is, it is.

"I can't say that this is the quarterback you really want to face."

The Patriots have had many battles with Manning in the past while he was the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback. And while the preparation for Sunday's game against Denver is in its early stages, New England sees some similarities with Manning's Broncos offense and his old Colts offense.

"It looks pretty much like the Colts' offense," said Belichick. "Two tight ends, three receivers. They're very similar to what they did in Indianapolis.

"He looks good," said Belichick. "It's him, it's everybody else, it's the entire offensive team. And he does a good job of managing that offense, getting the ball to everybody. Running it, throwing it inside, throwing it outside. All the things that they have, they have a lot of weapons, and you've got to be careful about giving him opportunities, because he'll find them. So you have to do a good job of disguising, keeping him off-balance, and try to make him figure it out after the snap, or as late as possible. You certainly don't want to just show it to him too many times and let him take a run at it."

Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty agrees that there are similarities between this year's Broncos team and Manning's Colts team. And he's also not surprised to see Manning back on top after last year's neck surgery.

"He's one of those guys that you have to put a little extra time in, to be able to just hold your own, let alone play well," said McCourty on Monday. "You've really got to put your time in.

"I don't think many guys are surprised about what he does. You know he's a great player, and you know he's a competitor. So, my short time time in the league, everything I've looked at from him has been great performances and great leadership. And I think it's incredible what he's been able to do to overcome that injury. I'm really not surprised by him being one of those guys that can do it."

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.