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Offensive line got job done without Light, Mankins

Logan Mankins (left) opened a hole for BenJarvus Green-Ellis before exiting with a knee injury. Logan Mankins (left) opened a hole for BenJarvus Green-Ellis before exiting with a knee injury. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / December 25, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots had to make quite an adjustment just hours before kickoff yesterday, as left tackle Matt Light was declared out with an ankle injury.

But Light wasn’t the only problem. The sudden cold weather - it was near 60 degrees for the team’s lone outdoor practice this week, Thursday, but less than 30 during early warm-ups yesterday - led to problems for several players who stiffened up.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung, who had chatted with the media for the first time in weeks - a strong indication that he would play for the first time since being hurt against the Giants Nov. 6 - were surprise scratches.

Though Spikes missed practice Thursday, a league source said he would be active against the Dolphins.

Having to scramble, particularly because of Light’s absence, the Patriots turned to Logan Mankins, who made his first NFL start at left tackle. The All-Pro left guard played tackle at Fresno State.

Reserve lineman Donald Thomas, whose snaps have mostly come as a goal-line fullback, got his first start, sliding into Mankins’s customary spot. Thomas found out he was starting approximately two hours before kickoff.

“I couldn’t get all stir crazy,’’ he said. “I just took it for what it was, and just gathered myself and said, ‘Hey, it’s time to go.’ ’’

But just minutes into the game, the Patriots had another issue: Mankins left with a knee injury and didn’t return.

“Matt’s ankle was . . . he just wasn’t able to push off on it,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “So we were scrambling around there. And then Logan played a few plays and he went out, so we had to take what was left.’’

What was left meant Nate Solder switching from right to left tackle, with fellow rookie Marcus Cannon coming in at right tackle.

With all of the movement, Tom Brady was under attack, sacked three times in the first half and hit more than a handful of times.

Thomas pointed to communication as a problem early on.

“That, and we had to settle in,’’ he said. “I hadn’t started a game since ’09, so I just had to settle in and relax, focus up, and I think everyone did that.’’

The Patriots also switched centers during the game. Dan Connolly started, but Ryan Wendell replaced him. There was no announcement that anything was wrong with Connolly, though he has missed time because of a groin injury.

In addition to Light, Chung, and Spikes, Sebastian Vollmer (ankle/back), Shane Vereen (hamstring), Ron Brace, and Ryan Mallett were inactive.

Passing Moss

Wes Welker had his best game in three months with 12 receptions for 138 yards. Welker’s second half - 10 catches, 118 yards - allowed him to set the franchise record for receiving yards in a season. Welker has 1,518, eclipsing the mark set by Randy Moss (1,493) in 2007.

“In the second half, I wanted to come out and play the way we needed to play to win the game, and that’s what we were able to do,’’ Welker said. “We were able to make some plays and everyone chipped in. That’s how you win games.’’

Two catches stood out. Welker gained 42 yards on a catch and run - the play on which Brady set a personal best for passing yardage in a season (4,897) - on the Patriots’ go-ahead drive. Welker also picked up 9 yards on third and 9 the next time the Patriots had the ball, which helped set up Brady’s second rushing TD, which made it 27-17.

Surpassing Coates

Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 78 yards) has 1,219 receiving yards this season, the most by a Patriots tight end. Ben Coates had 1,174 in 1994. Gronkowski needs 72 yards in the regular-season finale against Buffalo to set the NFL record for a tight end. Kellen Winslow had 1,290 for the Chargers in 1980 . . . The two rushing scores by Brady tied his career best, established in a 52-7 home win against Washington Oct. 28, 2007. He also threw at least one touchdown pass for the 31st consecutive regular-season game . . . The lone offensive highlight for the Patriots in the first half was a 31-yard reception by Deion Branch, which was his 500th career reception . . . Jerod Mayo had two sacks, the first multi-sack game of his career . . . Miami running back Reggie Bush went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season on a first-quarter run, the first time in his career he has hit that mark . . . Zoltan Mesko’s 64-yard punt early in the second quarter matched his career long . . . There was a pregame moment of silence for firefighters Jon Davies of Worcester and James Rice of Peabody, who recently died in the line of duty.

Michael Whitmer of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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