Patriots offensive line shuffled with Mankins, Connolly out

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Patriots offensive line shuffled with Mankins, Connolly out

FOXBORO -- Coming off the bye week, the Patriots appeared to be relatively healthy and well-rested. It didn't last long.

New England's offensive line was shaken up by injuries in Sunday's 37-31 win over the Bills. Right guard Dan Connolly left the game in the second quarter with a back injury and did not return. Logan Mankins limped off the field with an ankle injury in the third quarter, and he remained out of the game as well.

Donald Thomas was called upon to replace Connolly. He said he was ready when he entered the game at right guard.

"You got to come to the stadium ready to play," said Thomas, who warmed up two hours before the opening kick with backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, snapping balls to Mallett as a center.

"You never know if you'll play or not play. You got to be ready to go and another situation happened today where I had to step in and fill the void for somebody."

When Mankins went down, Nick McDonald stepped in at left guard. McDonald has the ability to play all five offensive line spots and he too was ready when he got the call.

"You have to prepare each week as if something like that is going to happen," McDonald said. "It's unfortunate that someone goes down. You never want to see that. We're good friends and good teammates, but when they go down and your number is called you have to play just like they would, just like a starter would."

Brady was sacked once on the day and was hit a handful of times after getting rid of the ball. It wasn't a perfect performance, but the new-look offensive line did enough to help the Patriots win.

"I think, you know, what happened today, we managed the game and were able to move th ball," Thomas said. "There is always room for improvement and you can always go back and break down the film. That's any team and any player. So we take the good and the bad and move on from it and try to not make the same mistakes twice."

Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has historically done a good job of taking cast-offs and turning them into productive players. On Sunday, after Mankins went down, New England's interior offensive line was made up of two undrafted players (McDonald and center Ryan Wendell) and a former sixth-round pick who has been cut three times in his career (Thomas).

Part of their success on Sunday was due in part the Patriots coaching staff having their backups ready.

"Honestly, it's not a big challenge," McDonald said of entering in the middle of a game. "It's just a matter of being prepared for it. That's the biggest thing. Preparing mentally as if you're going to start the game, so going into it sometimes it is hard to do that but you have to be ready just like the starters are."

Another burner for Brady: Kraft compares Cooks to Moss

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Another burner for Brady: Kraft compares Cooks to Moss

PHOENIX -- For an indication of just how high the expectations sit for newly-acquired Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks, have a look at what team owner Robert Kraft said during the annual league meetings at the Biltmore on Monday. 

Asked about all the moves Bill Belichick and his front office have made this offseason, Kraft started with the former Saints big-play threat.

"I think what they've done is excellent this year," Kraft said. "And I know bringing this young man from New Orleans, I don't know, except since I've owned the team the only player who could make an impact like that at wide receiver is Randy Moss. He doesn't have his height, but he's got his speed. I think that's complementary to what we have on the team. I'm excited about him joining us."

Cooks gives the Patriots one of the most dynamic pass-catching threats in the NFL and should provide an additional boost to an offense that ranked third in the league in points scored (27.6) in 2016. He is one of three players to record 75 catches, 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. The other two? Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.

Those are some big names, but Moss may be the biggest ever associated with Cooks. What Moss did when he arrived to New England in a trade with the Raiders in 2007 was historic, catching 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns. 

As excited as Kraft is for Cooks' arrival, not even he will project a similarly gaudy statistical year. But he's clearly thrilled that Tom Brady will have yet another explosive receiving threat to pair with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and an impressive stable of pass-catching backs.

Kelly's a potential weapon in the Red Sox bullpen

Kelly's a potential weapon in the Red Sox bullpen

Joe Kelly’s ascent to the eighth inning has been pretty darn rapid.

Tyler Thornburg’s questionable right shoulder and the loss of other relievers elsewhere -- remember Koji Uehera, now of the World Champion Cubs? -- have thrown him into the spotlight.

That doesn’t make Kelly anything close to a certainty, though.

Entering spring training, even Craig Kimbrel, one of the very best closers around, faced some doubt after control flare-ups a year ago.

In Kelly, the Sox have an overpowering righty who couldn’t harness his stuff in the past. Someone who conspired with Clay Buchholz in making the Red Sox rotation look dismal midseason.

Kelly’s ineffectiveness last year, in fact, was one of the reasons they traded for Drew Pomeranz on July 14. And, logically, one of the reasons the Red Sox did not want to subsequently rescind the trade for Pomeranz.

The last start Kelly made with the Red Sox (and possibly in his big-league career) was on June 1 against the Orioles. He allowed seven runs in 2 1/3 innings and was immediately demoted.

He didn’t make it back to Boston until late July.

The best reasons to believe in Kelly now, in Thornburg’s absence, are straightforward: he was awesome at the end of last year, and he is overpowering.

In an eye-opening September, he held hitters to a .180 average in 14 innings. He gave up one earned run, carrying a 0.64 ERA, struck out 20 and walked just three.

That’s awesome potential.

He’s always had that, if nothing else, though: potential. What’s to say Kelly lives up to it? He might. There’s just not a lot to hang your hat on.

In eight innings this spring, Kelly has as many walks, seven, as he does strikeouts.

“The point we’re trying to stress to him, no one in this game is perfect,” Sox manager John Farrell told reporters Monday, including the Boston Herald. “He doesn’t have to be perfect with every pitch located. He has premium stuff. Trust it, and get ahead in the count a little bit more frequently.”

Early in spring training, Kelly talked about how he was still learning on the job, as you’d expect. That’s going to continue to be the case, and he'll continue to have to prove he's at last arrived.