AFC East: Logan Mankins
There will be no media access, as the players spoke with reporters for the final time on Thursday afternoon.
Below are a few highlights from Gillette:
Gostkowski’s pregame routine. Many sports fans and young athletes grow up visualizing a signature moment, be it catching a touchdown or hitting a free throw at the professional level.
“I always just try to visualize myself doing well and not getting overexcited or too hyped up in the moment,” he said, before adding lightheartedly, “Most of those guys are banging heads. I’m trying to like listen to Enya before the game to calm myself down. All I do is just try to -- the worst thing you can do in situations where, for me personally, where the situation gets bigger is get too excited.”
The veteran kicker added that he watches cut-ups of previous kicks that he has made to help put himself in a positive frame of mind before games.
Mankins talks beards. Guard Logan Mankins is currently sporting a thick beard, as he often has in the past. It stacks up with almost any other on the team, perhaps trailing only defensive end Rob Ninkovich's in terms of thickness.
“Rob, he’s got a nice beard,” Mankins said of his teammate’s facial hair, before joking. “I think he’s got some PEDs in there or something, but it looks good.”
Beards have become a popular look among Boston sports teams of late, with the Red Sox recently generating plenty of buzz for their bearded look during their 2013 World Series winning season.
“Those guys, they looked good,” Mankins said of the Sox. “Especially the ones with grey in [them]. Those ones are always my favorites.”
Amendola ready for postseason debut. While many Patriots are veterans of the postseason, this marks wide receiver Danny Amendola's first trip.
Asked Thursday if he anticipates the game will feel any different than a regular-season contest, Amendola said, “I’m ready. I’m ready to get going. It’s playoff time, you know?”
Reaching the postseason was one of the first goals laid out for Amendola and his team at the beginning of the season.
“We have a goal at the beginning of the year to make the playoffs, wherever you are,” he said. “You work just as hard throughout the year. We put a lot of hard work in this year -- overcame a lot of obstacles and adversity. So, we’re all ready to go and we’re all excited.”
Given that Dobson has missed each of the team’s practices since leaving Week 17 with his second foot injury of the season, he is highly unlikely to play on Saturday night. The Patriots will rely on top targets Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola plus Kenbrell Thompkins and recently re-signed Austin Collie at the position.
Guard Logan Mankins (ankle) headlined the list of limited participants, which also included cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder) and running back Shane Vereen (groin). Based off of their practice participation this week, all three seem to have a good shot of playing on Saturday night.
The Patriots will issue a final status report for Saturday’s game on Friday afternoon.
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot), who also missed practice all of last week after suffering another foot injury in the regular season finale, was the lone player not spotted at the start of practice.
The Patriots had an open roster spot after placing linebacker Brandon Spikes on injured reserve yesterday, and it has apparently been filled. A wide receiver wearing number 84 was on the practice field today, though it's unclear if he has been signed to the active roster or if he was signed to the practice squad and the Patriots promoted a separate player.
Due to extreme cold in the area, the Patriots practiced inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse outside of Gillette Stadium. They practiced in shells and helmets.
Mankins left Sunday's game briefly with an ankle injury and had a walking boot next to his locker on Monday afternoon. Given that the Patriots do not play until next Saturday night, it's possible they are looking to build in extra rest for their top offensive lineman.
Dobson, remains out after injuring his foot in Week 17, the same area that caused him to miss time late in the season. It's unclear if Dobson suffered the same injury to his foot or if a separate issue is now bothering him. Boyce has been hampered by an ankle injury since Week 16, and has not practiced since.
Veteran wide receiver Austin Collie was re-signed Thursday, according to a league source, and was spotted wearing number 10.
Dennard did not play in Week 17, and has dealt with injuries throughout much of the second half of the regular season. Beyond a knee injury, Dennard is also playing through a shoulder problem.
Today is the Patriots' second of three practice days this week before a break over the weekend. The team practiced on the game field at Gillette Stadium in the snow, where nearly a foot is expected to come down between Thursday and Friday.
The Patriots practiced in full pads.
But just one series later (after Josh Kline filled in for him), Mankins was back on the field, surprising even his head coach Bill Belichick.
"When [head trainer] Jim Whelan came back and told me, as you mentioned, right after the next series that Logan was back, I was a little bit surprised to hear that," Belichick said on Monday morning. "But he's a tough individual, tough-minded, physically and mentally tough."
Following the game, quarterback Tom Brady paid the ultimate compliment to Mankins' toughness, which was highlighted during the 2011 season, one that Mankins played through an ACL tear suffered in the first week of the regular season.
"There’s nobody tougher than Logan Mankins, so you know when he's getting helped up, you know he’s not feeling good, but he fought through it," Brady said. "There’s nobody that I’ve ever played with that is as tough as him. He’s right up there -- Matt Light was so tough, [Joe] Andruzzi, but Logan is second to none."
"I agree with Tom, in terms of toughness," Belichick added. "I've coached a lot of tough guys, but I don't think there's any I'd put ahead of him. There are some on that level, but not ahead. And any time Logan needs help getting off the field, you feel like it's something serious."
Kline would finish off the game for Mankins, most likely because the game was out of reach with the Patriots up by 14 points late in the fourth quarter.
Mankins' status going forward will be an area to monitor leading up to the team's divisional round playoff game, but for now Belichick was unable to offer any other information on the injury.
"I don't really have any information about going forward," he said. "That's always a part of the approach in the game process, we'll see how that all plays out."
"But I just can't say enough about the performance he gave us yesterday," Belichick added.
Mankins' toughness is evident: When starting left guard Logan Mankins was helped off the field in the second quarter, it was natural to assume it was serious. Mankins is one of the toughest Patriots players, once playing on a torn ACL. But after going to the locker room, Mankins soon returned to action. It very well might be serious, but they don't come much tougher than Mankins.
Dobson foot injury could lead to Collie call: With rookie receiver Aaron Dobson limping off the field in the first quarter (and not returning), it moved Kenbrell Thompkins up the depth chart into some two-receiver packages. Also, Danny Amendola played in some two-receiver packages along with Julian Edelman after opening the game exclusively as the No. 3. One thought: If Dobson's injury is serious enough to keep him out, it could lead to a quick call back for Austin Collie.
Edelman's milestone: Edelman has arguably been the Patriots' most consistent offensive player this season, and he hit both the 100-catch and 1,000-yard receiving marks today. The spark he is providing the offense is Wes Welker-like.
Wet ball a factor: With the game being played under heavy rain, ballhandling has been shaky on both sides. New England's Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount had fumbles, both of which were recovered by the Patriots. Amendola dropped a pass. It looked like one long throw might have slipped out of Tom Brady's hand.
Style of play reminds of 2004 season: When the Patriots run the ball like they have today, and also last Sunday against Baltimore, it brings back memories of the 2004 season when Corey Dillon was rumbling through opposing defenses. Dillon was a big back, and while Blount is not in that class, his size stands out.
Credit to the defense: The Patriots are piecing things together on defense, but credit to the unit for coming up with the stops in the critical situations (e.g. fourth-and-1). It doesn't always look pretty, and the Bills have helped in some areas with sloppy play, but the New England defense has done its part so far today.
Bills get the ball: The Bills won the opening toss and elected to defer, so they will get the ball at the start of the second half.
Mankins appeared to suffer the injury on a 36-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount, limping off the field with assistance from the team's training staff.
He was taken to the locker room for further evaluation.
The Patriots have turned to rookie Josh Kline in his place. Kline was used at left guard last week with Mankins filling in for Nate Solder at left tackle.
Who's in: Quarterback Tom Brady, left guard Logan Mankins, cornerback Aqib Talib, special-teamer Matthew Slater.
Key stats: This is Brady's ninth Pro Bowl berth, tying offensive lineman John Hannah for most in team history. ... For Mankins, this is his sixth Pro Bowl berth, and fifth in a row. ... This is Talib's first Pro Bowl. ... Slater gets his third straight nod.
Who cashed in: Talib. By earning a Pro Bowl nod, he reaches a $500,000 incentive in his contract. Slater gets an additional $300,000.
A case could be made for: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He's been excellent this season, but Denver's Matt Prater and Baltimore's Justin Tucker earned the two selections.
Others on the outside looking in: At safety, Devin McCourty could have made a strong case for a third spot alongside Earl Thomas (Seahawks) and Eric Weddle (Chargers), but it went to Jairus Byrd (Bills) -- probably more based on reputation. The NFL announced its selections as "unconferenced" this year, meaning that Patriots were competing against players from both the AFC and NFC. ... Defensive end is a tough position to crack, so while Chandler Jones has had an excellent season, it was going to be hard to break through. ... At punt returner, Julian Edelman is one of the best in the business but the spots went to Antonio Brown (Steelers) and Dexter McCluster (Chiefs).
Final thoughts: Brady, Talib and Slater were locks from this viewpoint. Slater is the new Larry Izzo. As long as he's healthy, he's going to keep ringing up Pro Bowl trips. Mankins, who has a well-earned reputation as one of the best in the game, was a tougher call because guards aren't always the first players your eyes are drawn to. But after some rocky moments this season (e.g. Oct. 27 vs. Miami), he's been playing at an elite level down the stretch.
Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
"It's not all on us, but there is enough of it that is on us. The perfect example is the other night. We come out in the third quarter -- sack, sack -- a lot of that was on us. Mental assignments, guys just getting beat," Mankins said of the quarter in which the Jets took control of the game, erasing a 21-10 halftime deficit. "Whenever the line is not playing well, it's hard to score points."
The Patriots' starting line returned intact for 2013 with left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Thus, expectations were high that the unit would be a strong point for the offense.
The results, however, have been uneven.
"The expectations start high in our room also. We expect a lot out of ourselves also [and] I think that's why we were disappointed after the game the other night," Mankins said. "We thought we played well until the end of the second [quarter] there. The third quarter was bad and then I thought we played better in the fourth quarter. But we had that lull right there in the third quarter that really hurt us, and hurt the team. We just can't play like that. ...
"There are times when we've played really well and times we've played really bad, like the other night, for a little stretch there, was just about as bad you can get. The thing is, everyone in that room wants to do it perfect. It's just not going to happen all the time; we're playing against good guys. The frustrating thing is when we do things wrong and that's the reason for a sack. We want to make them earn it and we didn't make them earn it every time."
As part of improving on those results, the Patriots practiced in full pads Wednesday, with Mankins saying it always helps to go back to the basics after an inconsistent performance. Looking ahead to Sunday's home game against the Dolphins, Mankins pointed to their deep defensive line as a strength.
So it will be another big test for an offensive line looking to string together a full 60-minute effort.
"It's a big division game. We let one get away last week and now we're facing a team that is very good, especially on their front seven on defense, and their front four. Those are good defensive linemen," he said. "It's going to be tough for our offense again this week. Hopefully we can do a better job."
Following up with Tommy Kelly: The veteran defensive tackle, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and didn't return, was one of the last players to leave the locker room. Unlike Vince Wilfork last week, who left Atlanta on the back of a cart after tearing his Achilles, Kelly walked out under his own power and his injury didn't appear, on the surface, to be as serious as Wilfork's. Kelly said he planned to speak with reporters later in the week, but when asked briefly about the knee, he said "everything's good." What that exactly means remains a bit unclear.
Crediting the Bengals' defense: As is often the case in a losing team's locker room, there was plenty of focus on the team's mistakes. At the same time, receiver Julian Edelman -- who singled out the red zone as the key area in the game -- pointed out that some credited belonged on the Bengals' side as well. "They were mixing it up, spinning the dial, doing what they do. They flat-out beat us. Sometimes you have to tip your hat," he said. "We have no excuses."
Letting the defense down: Offensive lineman Logan Mankins said, "The truth right now is that we're so inconsistent offensively. ... Today, the defense played great, as they have all year. I think we really let them down." No further explanation required.
Amendola's groin responds well: Receiver Danny Amendola was charted on the field for 38 of 64 snaps (including penalties), as he was managed in his return from a groin injury. He drew a large crowd of reporters at his locker after the game and said he felt good, although there were a few plays he wanted to have back. Amendola also said he felt he had scored on a play in which he was ruled just shy of the end zone.
Media scene: Players drawing large media crowds Wednesday included tight end Rob Gronkowski, safeties Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory, cornerback Kyle Arrington and receivers Aaron Dobson and Julian Edelman. Quarterback Tom Brady held his weekly news conference in the new media workroom, while Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano and running back Doug Martin held conference calls with reporters ahead of Tampa Bay's visit Sunday.
Dobson attempts to keep even keel: After a debut in which he scored a touchdown on his first offensive snap but later struggled to catch the ball, rookie Dobson talked Wednesday about keeping an even keel. "You can't ride the highs too much or the lows too much," he said. "What happened last week happened, and I'm just trying to move on, improve, and have a better game this week."
Mankins wants to see more consistent running game: The Patriots offense struggled in last Thursday's 13-10 victory over the Jets, with guard Logan Mankins saying the unit had one good drive the entire contest. A more consistent running game could help. "We had one good week of running it, and last week we didn't run it that well," he said. "I know we played a good run defense last week, but you still have to be able to produce yards in the run game. We didn't. This week, we have another very good run defense, so it will be a tough challenge. They have quick guys that play very hard, and their scheme makes it hard to run against because they're never sitting still. They're always running somewhere and they do a good job of staying in their lanes."
McCourty on Martin's elusiveness: McCourty explained what makes Tampa back Martin a challenge to tackle, starting with finding him. At 5-foot-9, he can be elusive. "Especially from a secondary standpoint, he's not a big guy. He kind of can stay behind blocks and then he shoots out of there. The biggest thing is getting a lot of guys around him and bringing him down."
Mankins takes jab at Jets on dust-up: Guard Logan Mankins is one of the Patriots' enforcers, and he took exception to Nick Mangold's tackle of cornerback Aqib Talib on the game-sealing interception. The play occurred in front of the New England sideline -- it led to both teams pushing and shoving -- and Mangold was ultimately penalized for a personal foul; offensive linemen D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Willie Colon were ejected. "It was a cheap shot," Mankins said. "He chose the wrong sideline to do that. We were standing up for our guy."
Edelman delivers career performance: Without receiver Danny Amendola (groin), the Patriots leaned heavily on five-year veteran receiver Julian Edelman, who had a career-high 13 catches (bettering his 10 in the 2009 regular-season finale) and was effective as a punt returner as well. Edelman drew a huge media crowd and was one of the last players to leave -- and on a night when Brady kept looking in his direction, it was clear that he had earned his quarterback's trust. That's something the team's rookies are still trying to accomplish, as Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson were targeted 17 times and combined for just five receptions. "What gets that [trust] is consistency, doing it in practice, executing that in practice and making that a game reality," Edelman said.
Defensive players feel good about performance: On a night when New England's offense was as ugly as we've seen since Brady became a starter in 2001, the defense had to rise up. The unit was pleased to pick up the offense. "We have guys banged up. We have some young guys over there, and we know it's going to take time for them to learn and develop," safety Devin McCourty said. "That's how a team works. There will be nights, maybe next game, where we don't play as well, and we'll need them to step up and they'll do that. We just need to keep playing off each other."
1. It seemed like the Patriots wanted to take a closer look at veteran safety Adrian Wilson and his effectiveness as a blitzer. Wilson blitzed on the first play of the game (the ball was out quickly) and then on the third-and-7 play (incomplete pass) that ended the Giants’ second drive. On the second blitz, Wilson was met by running back Andre Brown and ridden out of the play, as quarterback Eli Manning stepped up to make his throw on the run. Then there was a third blitz from Wilson on the Giants’ opening play of the third drive (off the defensive left side), when Manning completed a 37-yard pass to receiver Louis Murphy as Wilson was again picked up by running back David Wilson. He then blitzed again on the Giants’ touchdown later in the quarter (wasn’t close to disrupting the play). As the Patriots consider whether Wilson has a spot on their 53-man roster, I could envision them looking at these blitzes today and attempting to determine if Wilson can help them in that role.
2. Rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan (6-6, 255) was disruptive off the defensive left side, showing good power and multiple pass-rush moves, as well as how his long arms can affect passing lanes for opposing quarterbacks. In addition, he showed strength and technique to effectively set the edge, which is a necessity for any end (4-3) or outside linebacker (3-4) in the team’s scheme. We got a good look at that on the Giants’ second offensive play when Buchanan locked up with pulling guard Chris Snee, held his ground, and kept Wilson hemmed in as he was stopped for a modest 1-yard gain.
3. A good contrast to that play was seen later in the quarter on Wilson’s 16-yard run on a pitch from Manning around left end. The Patriots’ run force broke down, with right end Jake Bequette taking his first step inside, which was enough to lose containment. With linebacker Dane Fletcher also sealed off by left tackle Will Beatty, and cornerback Marquice Cole cleared out of the area because he was covering receiver Hakeem Nicks, it left a wide swath of real estate for Wilson. Some credit goes to the Giants for a well-blocked run, but it looked like it also could have been executed better from the Patriots’ standpoint.
4. The top seven offensive linemen appear set for the Patriots (Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Will Svitek), so I spent some time watching the reserves beyond that to see if anyone stood out. Center Matt Stankiewitch (6-4, 305) would be the choice. The first play might have been his worst -- he was pushed back into quarterback Ryan Mallett by Linval Joseph -- but he seemed to settle in nicely over the remainder of the first quarter against first-unit competition. His athleticism to get to the second level of the defense was seen on receiver Josh Boyce’s 18-yard reverse, when he sealed off linebacker Dan Connor. A nice play like that was later balanced off by failing to hold his block against defensive tackle Mike Patterson as Patterson pressured Mallett early in the second quarter. Like most rookies, Stankiewitch will benefit from some physical development, but he showed a scrappiness that made us take note.
5. There is a risk-reward that comes with every blitz, and the risk was evidenced on the Giants’ first touchdown. On third-and-2 from the Patriots 3-yard line, the defense sent seven rushers. That created a man-to-man situation with receivers and defensive backs, with rookie cornerback Logan Ryan matched up against Nicks. The rush didn’t get there and Manning had time to lock in on Nicks to complete a relatively easy touchdown. If you’re going to send seven, that’s a case where the rush has to get there quickly to help out the defensive backs. Didn’t happen in that case.
In the case of Patriots right guard Dan Connolly, who is currently recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, it was Marcus Cannon who was called upon to fill in. A subsequent injury to Cannon opened the door for Markus Zusevics to earn guard reps, and then missed time for Zusevics led to veteran Will Svitek playing on the interior part of the line, rather than his customary tackle spot.
Head coach Bill Belichick recently highlighted Svitek's versatile skill set, noting that he can play either tackle position, a desirable skill set for teams looking to build their line depth.
The Patriots have long valued versatility among their offensive linemen, as there can be several moving parts along the line that force a team to shuffle the deck.
Focusing on the Patriots projected top seven linemen, position versatility is among the common denominators.
Guard Logan Mankins: Belichick said during the 2012 season that he believed Mankins was probably capable of playing any of the five line positions if needed, though Mankins is entrenched at the left guard spot, where he's among the best in the game. He was also a standout left tackle in college at Fresno State.
Center Ryan Wendell: Wendell took over starting center duties for the 2012 season, though he can flex to either guard spot as well. His modest size (6-2, 300) is offset by his technician-like approach and ability to leverage defenders. He's developed into one of the better centers in football.
Tackle Sebastian Vollmer: Another player who has been entrenched in his current spot at right tackle, Vollmer has the requisite skills to swing to left tackle as well. In fact, he was likely the Patriots back-up left tackle last season, though Nate Solder was on the field for virtually every offensive snap.
Tackle Nate Solder: Solder was a chess piece on the line as a rookie, playing at both tackle spots, as an extra lineman, and even getting preseason guards snaps. With his uncommon length and movement skills, playing multiple positions is well within his capabilities.
Guard Dan Connolly: Like Wendell, Connolly has interior line flex. He started at center in 2011 before kicking out to guard last season. As things currently stand, he'd likely be called upon to take over at center if Wendell were to ever suffer an injury.
Guard Marcus Cannon: A college tackle prospect, Cannon seems to be working more at guard these days. That being said, he can still serve as a reserve right tackle, and might be able to play left tackle in a pinch, too.
Tackle Will Svitek: As we said off the top, Svitek has four position versatility, with the tools to swing to either tackle spot and play each guard post as well.
Among the remaining linemen on the roster, we have the best feel for Zusevics, who we've seen at both tackle and guard. The book is still out on Josh Kline, Luke Patterson, Brice Schwab and Chris McDonald, who we've seen in small doses this camp.
The Patriots could keep one or more of these five on the practice squad, or one could also emerge as a surprise keep on the 53-man roster. One has to figure that if any of them stick around, he'll have the versatility to play multiple line spots.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The third preseason game is often considered the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, and that’s the way it seems coach Bill Belichick and Patriots players are treating Thursday’s road contest against the Lions in Detroit.
“It’s the game you get to play the most in, so we’ll see how our conditioning is,” said guard Logan Mankins, one of the team’s captains in 2012. “We’ll play more than we have in the past and I’m sure they’ll play more. It’s always a good challenge.”
Mankins added that players watched some Lions film on Monday morning, with linebacker Jerod Mayo saying, “Each and every week is big, but this third game we really get into studying our opponent.”
The Patriots also turned up the noise at practice Monday. Preseason or not, they expect a loud atmosphere at Ford Field, which puts more stress on an offense that often relies on the silent snap count while on the road.
Then there’s personnel, such as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
“That’s the strength of their team, I think personally, their defensive line,” Mankins said. “They have good tackles and good ends. They put a lot of pressure on you in the run game and pass game.
“Suh is probably one of the strongest tackles you’re going to find in the league and very athletic for his size also. They’re good at what they do and they’re always a handful for whoever they’re playing.”
This marks the second time in three years that the Patriots will visit the Lions for the third preseason game. In 2011, the Lions rolled, 34-10.
“We’re going on the road, tough environment; we went there a few years ago and didn’t do very well, which we’ve already heard about for three days now,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “So we’re going to have to do better than we did the last time.”