Mankins makes Patriots mean-spirited


Mankins makes Patriots mean-spirited

By Tom E. Curran

FOXBORO - As the Patriots have ascended back to the top of the NFL's elite, you see a little bit more . . . chippiness in their games. In the blowouts, the ass-thrashing recipients turn scrappy. In the close games, the teams wanting to stand up to the Patriots know that they'll have to take and deliver a punch to do so. And, in getting back to where they were, the Patriots havere-embraced their "tougher than thou" mentality. A lot of it flows from left guard Logan Mankins, who rejoined the team Nov. 6 after staying away in a contract squabble."I think Logan is really a catalyst for what we do up there," said quarterback Tom Brady. "Hes a great player for us. Hes tough, hes physical, he brings really a mean spirit to the group. "Logan plays until the echo of the whistle," Brady said, meaning he plays past the initial blow of a referee's whistle. "It goes right up to the end, so he's always in the middle of some altercation or something like that. If there's a pile up, I know Logan's involved. That's just how he plays. That's his style, and I think he brings a great element of toughness to our offense."There's no doubt he'd also be described as dirty by some opponents because of his around-the-pile and post-whistle activities. But a lot of the best NFL linementhrough the yearshave had the same label applied to them - longtime Pro Bowl centerKevin Mawaebeing one of them. There's an enforcer role that offensive linemen have to fill and Mankins is adept at it. "You always want your team to play as one, for the 10 guys to support the 11th guy and all that," Bill Belichick observed. "That's what a unit is; it's out on the field. They're all playing together; they're supporting each other, both emotionally and from a functional standpoint, on the field."I know that there's stuff that goes on after the play at times," Belichick explained. "I think, as a team, you have to be able to stand up to that, not at the expense of getting penalties and personal fouls and all that, but to hold your ground and be able to play the game and not get pushed around out there."The Patriots have done an excellent job toeing the line between chippy and dirty(or penalizable). They have 65 penalties so far this season, fourth-fewest in the leaguebehind the Colts, Dolphins and Falcons (who have an amazing 49 penalties all year). Between keeping the ball in their possession, taking it from their opponents, turning mistakes into scores and playing within the rules, New England isdoing it better than anybody. And if a couple of coconuts need to get banged together along the way by Mankins and his buddies . . . so be it.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”