PHOTO: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looks to pass downfield during the fourth quarter of their 24-17 win over the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Sunday, Nov. 20, 2005. Brady threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns in the win. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Patriots Offensive Line Troubles Continues
By Site Staff
This just in from ONN, the Obvious News Network -- Tom Brady is the MVP of the 2005 Patriots. Without Brady and production that has him on pace to set single-season highs in a variety of categories, the 6-4 Patriots could be, at least record-wise, one of the worst teams in football. Brady's right arm has literally been the key to just about every New England win this season, and as such the two-time Super Bowl MVP should at the very least get consideration for NFL MVP.
With that in mind, protecting Brady is of the utmost importance in New England. Through all the injuries in recent years, the quarterback has been the one underlying constant guiding the team to whatever success it has had. And he is the one factor that is necessary for absolutely any success the team will have moving forward this season and beyond.
That fact puts a spotlight on a New England offensive line that now sports two rookies, two undrafted players and a former seventh-round pick/street free agent in the starting lineup and only two players who began the season as starters. Left guard and 2005 top pick Logan Mankins has played well at times, while third-round pick Nick Kaczur has been adequate in filling in at left tackle for Matt Light, who has been out since Week 3 with a broken leg.
Starting right tackle Tom Ashworth has missed two weeks with a knee injury, forcing Brandon Gorin to fill in. And Russ Hochstein made his first career start at center last week against the Saints after seeing action in the second half in Week 10 in Miami when starter Dan Koppen went down with a shoulder injury. Koppen, who had started 46 straight games at center dating back to the second week of his rookie season in 2003 was placed on injured reserve last week. Hochstein now has the unenviable role of making all the offensive line adjustments and calls that are at the heart of Brady's protection.
"I have to work on knowing things better, seeing things more, being alert to things I wasn't in tune to doing," said Hochstein, who was thrown into the proverbial fire for the first time in New England during the 2003 postseason with starts in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl XXXVIII. "But like I said, we prepare for these situations all the time. Every NFL team does that. That's what I am supposed to do."
The good news is that Light was upgraded last week from out to doubtful on the team's injury report and appears to be on pace for a return to action in the next few weeks.
"It's coming along great," Light said. "I'm taking the course I'm sure they wanted to take. There haven't been any major setbacks, so that's a good thing. It's an injury, and every injury is different. I go out there, I do everything I can, I've been getting better, and I'm just taking it day by day."
With or without Light, the guys who are out there know they have to perform at a high level to protect Brady, create room in the running game and give the defending champs a chance to win.
"You never know what's going to happen," said Stephen Neal, the former world-class wrestler who never played college football but is the only remaining veteran starter on the New England line. "It's kind of funny to me, but it is what it is, and you have to go on from there.
"Logan's come in and done a great job; Nick, too. Brandon's out there, and we were together last year. Russ started long before I did back in the Super Bowl and in the Indianapolis Colts game. So we have a lot of experience out there and a lot of people working hard."
They'd better be, because they literally protect the franchise and the team's hopes for the remainder of the season. If Brady goes down, then so too do the back-to-back defending Super Bowl champs.