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His task: Hold that line

Backup Hochstein asked to fill in for Woody

FOXBOROUGH -- Recent history says the Patriots' fortunes haven't taken a turn for the worse with the loss of left guard Damien Woody. It's merely Russ Hochstein's turn.

Woody, according to team sources, will miss Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Colts and, should New England advance, likely the Super Bowl as well with a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered on the first play of Saturday's divisional-round win over the Titans. The Patriots have listed Woody as doubtful on the injury report, meaning he has a 25 percent chance to play, but that's being optimistic. According to a team source with knowledge of Woody's condition, he would have a "10 percent chance, if that" of playing in the Super Bowl Feb. 1.

Hochstein will replace Woody at left guard. He's in his third year out of Nebraska and has played in 17 career games, 15 this season filling in at both guard positions, including the past two games. His first and only career start came in Week 4 at Washington, when Woody was out with a knee injury. That placed Hochstein among the 43 players who have started for New England this season, one that's been all about stepping in and stepping up.

"Whether [Woody is] in there or whether he's not, I think this team has proven that we kind of move on, and the guys that fill those spots are very capable," Tom Brady said yesterday. "We've done that all year. Damien plays at a Pro Bowl level, and he was in the Pro Bowl last year. He's a great offensive lineman. He's strong, powerful, very athletic, so to lose a guy like that with the experience and confidence that he has, I don't think you really replace someone like that. I think we have guys that can obviously step in."

"There's no one here collecting a backup-role check," right guard Joe Andruzzi said. "People know their roles and, when called upon, know what has to be done."

Woody was not in the locker room during yesterday's media availability period. Hochstein, meanwhile, tried to keep a low profile. "I'm just trying to do my part, fill in where I can," he said. "Looks like I may be doing that at the left [guard] spot. Just trying to work hard and make sure I do everything right, fill in, and do my best."

The Patriots will send out a different starting offensive line for the first time since Week 4 -- their last loss. Three-fifths of the line that will start Sunday did not start the regular-season opener.

New England is down to seven healthy offensive linemen: left tackle Matt Light, Hochstein, center Dan Koppen, Andruzzi, right tackle Tom Ashworth, reserve guard Wilbert Brown and tackle Brandon Gorin. Brown, claimed off waivers from the Redskins Sept. 22, likely will be active Sunday for the first time since Week 6 against the New York Giants.

Woody, who moved to guard in the third game following a season-ending foot injury to Mike Compton, was Koppen's backup at center. If Koppen were to suffer an injury, Hochstein probably would take his place at center. Hochstein played center in the preseason and is the emergency long snapper. A starter for nine games with Washington last season, Brown can play either guard position, though he says he's more comfortable on the right side.

Fortunately for the Patriots, Brown, who has only played in two games this season, both on the field goal team, hasn't gotten too comfortable on the bench. "When you're dressed, and somebody goes down, you've got to go in," Brown said.

The Patriots have grown accustomed to playing reserves. Woody's DNP Sunday will be the 104th game New England's starters have missed because of injury this season. There usually hasn't been a noticeable dropoff. "Around here, you get inserted, you can't have any letdowns," Brown said. "That's the good thing about being here. They believe in everybody. I definitely don't want to let them down."

The attitude among Hochstein's line brothers was that they wouldn't miss a beat without Woody. "Russ has been here with us the whole season," Koppen said. The Patriots signed Hochstein from the practice squad Sept. 14. "He's been in there. We feel comfortable with anybody you put in there."

All of the Patriots' linemen, not just the center, make line calls. Hochstein, obviously, hasn't had as many repetitions as Woody.

"[Damien] has a lot of experience and can make all of our calls and adjustments and not have to think," coach Bill Belichick said. "Again, you have guys that have been playing all year out there that, again, maybe haven't had every snap, but they've practiced, they've gone through every game plan, they've played. They know the offense as well as anybody who's played this season, so they'll step in there and take on those responsibilities."

Hochstein "is a player that will give you everything he's got," Koppen said. "No doubt about that. He knows his assignments, and he's one guy we trust in there. We have complete confidence in Russ."

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