By Tom E. Curran
DALLAS - It couldn't have been fun for the three Patriots offensive linemen. From the DFW Airport to the downtown Dallas Convention Center, billboards praising the Steelers and Packers for their Super Bowl appearance were impossible to miss. And here were Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly and Mark LeVoir on Thursday picking up an award from an acid reflux company for being named the best offensive line in the NFL.
Koppen had no plans to even sample the Super Bowl scene. He came down Wednesday night and will leave Thursday night. His wife is expecting their second son in three weeks. "We definitely would have liked to be here under different circumstances, but that's the way it works. That's the NFL," said Koppen. "We didn't earn our spot to be here. We'll just have to deal with that and learn from it and get better. It's bittersweet."Koppen hasn't yet watched the tape of that Divisional Playoff loss to the Jets but said, "I might have to watch it just to put it to rest."Asked if it's agitating to know the Patriots lost because of inefficiency rather than being overmatched, Koppen said, "We got to go out there and play the game on Sunday regardless of what we did in the past or the regular season. Come playoff time it's one and done, and we weren't the best team on the field that day and we have to deal with that." The Patriots offensive line could be in flux. Stephen Neal's annual shoulder injury came again. Matt Light's a free agent. Logan Mankins is unhappy he has no new deal and will probably be franchised. "I don't get paid to make decisions," said Koppen when asked about the possible transition on the left side of the line. "Matt's been a great player for us for a long time and I hope he continues to be a great player for us. I think he's a Patriots type of player. With Logan's deal, it's not unheard of. There's a lot of movement, coaches, players (note: I have no idea what he means there; just dropping words, apparently), but those are two guys we'd like to have."The looming battle between owners and players has Koppen's attention. "It's concerning," he admitted. "This is what we do. That being said, there are certain things theNFL wants and certain things the players want." As for the chore of keeping in shape if labor strife drags, Koppen said players normally take a month off and then start training on their own. "With whatever happens with that, if you're a professional athlete you need to be able to handle it by yourself," he said.