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."

Bennett says he is 'just chilling' and hasn't given free agency 'a ton of thought'

Bennett says he is 'just chilling' and hasn't given free agency 'a ton of thought'

Will Martellus Bennett be back with the Patriots next season?

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport says it's "a real possibility" Bennett leaves given the asking price and potential offers.

Less than an hour later, the unrestricted free agent sent out a tweet responding to speculation about his future.

Bennett, who will 30 years old in March, had seven touchdowns in 19 games in his first season with the New England Patriots. 

 

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.