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Success of Patriots offensive line in 2016 is rooted in consistency and continuity 01.03.17 at 11:50 am ET
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The Patriots offensive line has stayed remarkably healthy over the course of the 2016 season. (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

The Patriots offensive line stayed remarkably healthy over the course of the 2016 regular-season. (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

Who gets the award as the Patriots’ ironman for the 2016 regular season? Rookie guard Joe Thuney came awfully close, keeping his consecutive snap streak alive deep into the year. While no one went wire-to-wire, the durability of New England’s offensive line was very impressive; the Patriots were fundamentally able to roll out the same five guys over the course of the season. That level of continuity and consistency played a sizable role in the fact that quarterback Tom Brady had excellent protection all year long, as well as the fact that running back LeGarrette Blount was just the fifth 1,000-yard back of the Bill Belichick Era.

Here’s a look at the top 10 snap counts for both sides of the ball for this past regular season. (Note: The data here is from a combination of sources, including personal press box tallies, as well as cross-checks with official NFL boxscores and Pro Football Reference.)

Offense
1. LG Joe Thuney: 1,114 snaps
2. C David Andrews: 1,114 snaps
3. RT Marcus Cannon: 1,031 snaps
4. LT Nate Solder: 1,029 snaps
5. RG Shaq Mason: 1,017 snaps
6. WR Julian Edelman: 874 snaps
7. TE Martellus Bennett: 867 snaps
8. WR Chris Hogan: 829 snaps
9. QB Tom Brady: 817 snaps
10. WR Malcolm Mitchell: 538 snaps

Defense
1. S Devin McCourty: 1,022 snaps
2. CB Malcolm Butler: 1,008 snaps
3. S Patrick Chung: 1,006 snaps
4. CB Logan Ryan: 897 snaps
5. LB Dont’a Hightower: 708 snaps
6. DE Chris Long: 677 snaps
7. DL Alan Branch: 626 snaps
8. DL Malcom Brown: 596 snaps
9. DL Jabaal Sheard: 579 snaps
10. DL Trey Flowers: 563 snaps

Read More: David Andrews, Devin McCourty, Joe Thuney, Marcus Cannon
3 up, 3 down following Patriots’ 30-17 win over Niners 11.20.16 at 7:56 pm ET
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Tom Brady threw four touchdowns against the Niners on Sunday. (Kelley L Cox/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady threw four touchdowns against the Niners on Sunday. (Kelley L Cox/USA Today Sports)

At first glance, here are three up and three down in the wake of Sunday’s 30-17 win over the Niners.

3 UP
Quarterback Tom Brady: In his return to the Bay Area — his first game in San Francisco as a professional — the veteran stumbled a bit in the early going finished strong. He was 24-for-40 for 280 yards and four touchdown passes in the win. It marked the 21st time in his career he had at least four touchdown passes and no picks in a game, the most by any player in NFL history,

The backs: LeGarrette Blount topped 100 rushing yards for the fourth time this year (the most since his rookie year) on the way to 124 yards (on 19 carries) on the day. In his return, Dion Lewis had five carries for 23 yards and three catches for 26 yards, while James White chipped in with six catches for 63 yards.

Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell: The rookie did well replacing the deep ball impact of the Chris Hogan, with a career-best four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in the win.

3 DOWN
Linebacker Elandon Roberts: There’s no denying it — the youngster had a bad day when he was asked to work in coverage. The Patriots utilized a handful of different linebackers alongside Dont’a Hightower, but still need a dependable coverage linebacker to emerge between now and the postseason.

Left tackle Nate Solder: You can blame Jeff Triplette, but the veteran lineman was flagged twice in the second quarter. One of the penalties ended up bringing back what would have been a touchdown run from Blount.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski: The kicker was one of several across the league who missed extra points on the afternoon. He went wide right in the first quarter, marking his third missed PAT on the season.

Read More: Dion Lewis, Elandon Roberts, James White, LeGarrette Blount
Nate Solder’s absence from Patriots practice not injury related, 4 players limited 11.17.16 at 5:03 pm ET
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Nate Solder

Nate Solder

FOXBORO — The Patriots had two players miss practice on Thursday, but only one appears to be a concern.

Both Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder missed practice, but Solder’s wasn’t injury related. Gronkowski missed his second straight practice with a chest injury and therefore doesn’t appear likely to play Sunday against the 49ers.

There were also four players limited, including Julian Edelman and Martellus Bennett.

Tom Brady once again was not listed and although not spotted when the media was present, Woodrow Hamilton was a full participant.

Here is the complete injury report:

DID NOT PRACTICE

TE Rob Gronkowski (chest)
OL Nate Solder (not injury related)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION

DL Alan Branch (back)
TE Martellus Bennett (ankle)
WR Julian Edelman (foot)
WR Chris Hogan (back)

Read More: Julian Edelman, Nate Solder, Rob Gronkowski,
Rob Gronkowski among 3 players missing from Patriots practice at 1:10 pm ET
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Nate Solder

Nate Solder

FOXBORO — Maybe the Patriots are not as healthy as first thought.

The team had three players missing from Thursday’s practice, which was held in full pads on the lower fields behind Gillette Stadium.

Rob Gronkowski (chest) was absent for a second straight day, while Nate Solder and Woodrow Hamilton were also absent. Both Solder and Hamilton weren’t listed on the injury report on Wednesday.

It appears the Patriots will be forced to go with two tight ends on Sunday in Martellus Bennett and Matt Lengel, as Gronkowski seems unlikely to play. The reason for Solder and Hamilton’s absences will come on the injury report later which comes out later in the afternoon.

The Patriots will practice Friday morning before departing for San Francisco later in the day.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Nate Solder, Rob Gronkowski, Woodrow Hamilton,
Losses of Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Jonathan Cooper narrow margin for error for Jimmy Garoppolo, Patriots in opener 09.10.16 at 12:46 am ET
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Jimmy Garoppolo won't have Rob Gronkowski to throw to on Sunday night. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Jimmy Garoppolo won’t have Rob Gronkowski to throw to on Sunday night. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

No Rob Gronkowski on Sunday against the Cardinals means that the already sizable challenge facing Jimmy Garoppolo will be even greater than initially anticipated.

With Tom Brady on the sidelines, the feeling was: Hey, at the very least, the kid can always rely on Gronk. Right? Now, that element has been removed from the equation. And while defense and special teams can still provide a massive boost for the Patriots in this one, there’s simply no way of minimizing the magnitude of the test that lies ahead for the young quarterback.

Even after two-plus years in the system, Garoppolo still is something of an unknown commodity. No one is sure how he’ll react to live game reps over an extended stretch. Is he mentally tough? How will he react in a stressful situation? And with Gronkowski unavailable, how does he respond? All legitimate questions at this stage of his career.

The good news is that New England still has one pretty good tight end in Martellus Bennett. And remember when we were all wondering why the Patriots kept four tight ends on the roster? It means that while Gronkowski’s pass-catching abilities are gone for this game, New England still has enough depth to offer some of those two-tight end sets Arizona coach Bruce Arians talked about anticipating earlier this week.

Expect more of the pass-catching burden to fall on Bennett. It’s worth mentioning in the context of this conversation that the most predictive month of Bennett’s career is September — maybe he’ll start his Patriots’ career on an equally strong note. Meanwhile AJ Derby and Clay Harbor will see more action than initially anticipated as blockers. It’s also worth tossing fullback James Develin into the mix as well, as he practices with the tight ends.

The bad news? It removes the best tight end in the game from the lineup against one of the best young pass defenses the Patriots will face all year. Even when you consider that the big fella doesn’t play any preseason games — which means he usually uses the first four games of the regular season to ramp up to full speed — there’s no way of truly minimizing his loss. Former Patriots executive Mike Lombardi talked with WEEI on Friday just how important Gronkowski would be to Garoppolo and his chances for success against the Cardinals.

“Jimmy needs Gronk,” Lombardi said. “What I think people lose sight of with Gronk a little bit is Gronk’s a great indicator for the quarterback. When Gronk’s flexed away from [the line] — let’s take the Super Bowl, when Gronk lines up out there and K.J. Wright’s with him, every quarterback in the world knows it’s man-to-man. If there would have been a corner out there on him, then they know its zone.

“So Gronk’s a great indicator. It really helps a quarterback, especially when you’re playing against a team that does a lot of multiple things on defense. And not having Gronk out there all the time will affect it.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Jimmy Garoppolo, Jonathan Cooper, Nate Solder, Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Jonathan Cooper all ruled out for Sunday in Arizona 09.09.16 at 10:02 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski

FOXBORO — Sunday’s task for Jimmy Garoppolo will be much bigger than he could’ve imagined, even at the end of the preseason.

Star tight end Rob Gronkowski and starting left tackle Nate Solder have been ruled out with hamstring injuries after not making the trip with the team to Arizona on Friday.

Also ruled out for Sunday is offensive guard Jonathan Cooper.

Gronkowski injured his hamstring in a joint practice against the Bears on August 15 and hasn’t played in the preseason. Gronkowski said Thursday that he wasn’t 100 percent but was optimistic he would be feeling fine in time for the game. Apparently, that changed Friday after consulting with the team’s medical staff.

Gronkowski did say he would consult with the coaching and medical staff before a final decision was made.

Solder was injured in the second offensive series against the Giants in the preseason finale and was replaced by Cameron Fleming at left tackle while Marcus Cannon is the other tackle on the right side.

With Cooper also out, Chris Barker not making the trip and Josh Kline released this week, the Patriots are left thin on the interior line, carrying just Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, David Andrews and Shaq Mason (who is recovering from a broken hand).

Cooper, acquired in the deal that sent Chandler Jones to the Cardinals, hasn’t played in the preseason but did speak earlier in the week. He was hopeful he could get on the field on Sunday against his former team after missing most of camp with plantar fascia issue in his foot.

Read More: Arizona Cardinals, Jonathan Cooper, Nate Solder, New England Patriots
Perfect attendance again Thursday for Patriots in final prep before Arizona 09.08.16 at 12:32 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots held another practice Thursday on the upper grass fields and once again, all players on the active roster were present and accounted for.

The only two missing were Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich, who will spend the first four weeks on the league’s suspended list.

After a full pads practice Wednesday, the team was in just shorts and shells for the humid midday workout.

Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder were both taking part in full stretching exercises before practice, as both were listed as limited with hamstring issues in Wednesday’s first practice report.

Cornerback Eric Rowe and practice squad linebacker Quentin Gause were both taking part in their second practices.

Thursday is the last full day for the Patriots in Foxboro, as the team is leaving Friday for Sunday night’s season opener in Arizona.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Arizona Cardinals, Gronk, Nate Solder, New England Patriots
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