FOXBORO -- Josh Kline sat down in the visitor's locker room in Baltimore, wearing a new hat and a new t-shirt, and thought about the wild ride he's taken in the last eight months.
In April he hoped to find his way into the NFL as an undrafted free agent. By December, he was starting at left guard for the Patriots, helping his team beat the Ravens 41-7 on the day when New England became AFC East champions.
"It was very surreal," Kline said Thursday. "Being with these guys, being AFC East champs. I was just thinking, I came from an undrafted free agent, came here and worked my way up. Unfortunately people got hurt, but they pride themselves around here on being able to step in in this organization no matter what in key situations. I'm glad I helped my team win last week. It was just a surreal experience. Putting that hat on and that shirt on and just knowing that I did my job decently. I won't say 'well' or anything because I obviously have stuff to work on, but it was definitely surreal."
Kline more than held his own against a talented defensive front that features Pro Bowlers Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, and was not clearly beaten for any disruptive pressures on quarterback Tom Brady.
At the end of the game, the Patriots chose to run behind him. With New England leading 20-7 in the fourth quarter and trying to bleed the clock, they ran nine times -- eight of those went to the left side behind Kline and that day's starter at left tackle Logan Mankins. The drive was capped with a 7-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount. Leading the way to the goal line was Kline.
"As an offense as a whole you want to try to finish with the ball in your hands, especially on a game like that because we've been on the other side when we've been down by a couple scores and we've came back," Kline said. "So we wanted to run out some clock and just play physical. Doesn't matter if it was left side or right side running the ball. The offensive line as a whole and the running backs ran hard and we blocked well. The right side is crucial because on those runs, the cut blocks on the back side are more important than even what we do on the front side. I think we took that to heart. Just, 'We're going to end this game on our terms,' and I think we did that as an offense."
And like any good offensive lineman, he enjoyed the fact that the Patriots imposed their will on Baltimore to finish things off.
"It's fun, you like run-blocking as an offensive lineman," he said. "You see our running backs run hard like that even after contact, breaking tackles and everything. It gets you geeked up and it's exciting. Run-blocking is one of my favorite parts of being an o-lineman because it's just you versus him. There's rarely any stunts from the defense or anything. It's just, 'There's the guy. Go push him around.' "
Kline, a 6-foot-3, 310-pounder from Kent State played every position on the offensive line in college. He says that experience may have helped the Patriots take notice of him when he was signed as an undrafted free agent at the end of April.
"I'm sure it had something to do with it," he said. "Everyone prides themselves here, on all positions, knowing what to do. You gotta know guard, you gotta know center, you gotta know the opposite side. If you're a tackle, you gotta play guard, just like in Logan's case. Logan's played everything here. And then from a coaching standpoint, it's always nice to have guys who can play multiple positions because when someone goes down, you know you can kick someone over who knows what to do."
That's how Kline saw his first action of the season. When starting left tackle Nate Solder left New England's Week 15 game against the Dolphins with a concussion, the Patriots opted to move Mankins from left guard to left tackle -- where he played in college at Fresno State.
Kline was next up at left guard. He finished the game there in Miami and was called upon for the start in Baltimore last week when Solder sat out injured.
"You always have to be ready on the sidelines, watching to see if guys are OK or getting up slow or anything checking to see if they're alright on the sidelines," Kline said. "It's hard to get in that -- when you get called on like I did in Miami -- to get in that game mode right away from a physical standpoint. But mentally you have to go through every play that's called on the field, acting like you're out there. It's hard to stay warm standing on the sidelines, especially when it's cold out, but you just gotta be ready for anything that could happen."
Kline credited offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and veteran teammates like Mankins, center Ryan Wendell and right guard Dan Connolly with helping him make the adjustment to the pro game.
While his playing time shot up in the last two weeks, Kline has found himself helping them as well.
"Logan helps me out and I try to help him out," Kline said. "It's different for him because sometimes he can't hear the calls because he's used to guard and getting the calls from [Wendell]. So I have to reiterate what Wendy says out to him. But [Mankins] knows what to do on every play so I'm not worried about him."
It's unsure how the Patriots line will look in Week 17 against the Bills. Solder practiced Wednesday and Thursday and if he were to return to game action Sunday, Mankins would likely be moved back to left guard.
Regardless of how the playing time shakes out, Kline knows the Patriots offensive line faces a difficult challenge on Sunday. Buffalo defensive linemen Jerry Hughes (10 sacks), Kyle Williams (10.5) and Mario Williams (13.0) lead a group that is tops in the NFL in sacks.
"You just gotta block inside out like the coaches preach to us every day," Kline said. "Protect the guy behind us, Tom Brady."
That may sound like a dream for the kid from Mason, Ohio who won the Division 1 state wrestling title for William Mason High in 2008, not long after Brady and the Patriots fell just short of completing a perfect season.
And it is.
"I'm blessed," Kline said. "Just taking it day by day. I've said before that this season's had its ups and downs, but anything I can do to contribute to the team winning or the team having success is a good thing."