Carter continues to thrive in New England

587994.jpg

Carter continues to thrive in New England

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Andre Carter has said before how happy he is to play for the Patriots. He did, again, on Sunday night.

"It's just such an honor and opportunity to play for such a great franchise. I take advantage of it every day I step onto the field."

The feeling is undoubtedly mutual.

Carter set a franchise record with 4.5 sacks in New England's 37-16 win over the Jets. Some will look at the score as Mark Sanchez's failure against a weak defense and not entirely be wrong. But to do so is to discount Carter.

Sanchez completed 20-of-29 pass attempts for 306 yards and one touchdown. Some of the poor decision-making that led to two interceptions was typical of Sanchez, but his incoherence was inspired by New England. Carter gave the quarterback hell, bringing unrelenting pressure that started early.

On the Jets' second drive of the game, Sanchez took the snap on third-and-8 at the New York 42. Carter found him and dropped him for a loss of seven yards. The quarter ended with an exclamation point when Sanchez, in shotgun on second-and-6, found himself being chased again by Carter.

Lie down, Sanchez. Eight-yard loss.

Its one of those games Ill definitely remember. Im still shocked, still soaking it in," Carter said. "But regardless, Im very happy that we just came out here and won. That was the most important thing. Like I said, we came off two tough games back-to-back and this was definitely a must-win.

Carter's nine sacks in nine games lead all Patriots and only four players in the NFL have more. It's like the 32-year old has somehow turned back the clock to his days in San Francisco. His career-best is 12.5 sacks, recorded with the 49ers in 2002. It was his second year in the league.

Nine years later, he's on pace for 16.

It's no wonder Carter is so constantly grateful. Think about where he was last season: Washington, drowning as an outside linebacker in the new 3-4 Redskins scheme. Carter's 2010 campaign, 44 tackles and 2.5 sacks in just five starts, was one of the worst of his career. To ask for a release off that kind of season, at his age, was a risk. But Carter says he knew what was best.

He knew he could thrive with his hand in the dirt; New England gave him that chance.

"I thank God for the performance, for my family for constantly driving me, and the men that I play with every day and that practice with," he said. "Those people have been such a big influence on my life.

"But regardless, I'm just happy we came out there and won. That was the most important thing in general."

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

patriots-belichick_2.jpg

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.