On football

For Patriots, it’s all falling right into line

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / November 3, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — It wouldn’t be a surprise if Bill Belichick took a little time off to hit the craps tables at Foxwoods.

The man is on a roll.

He traded Randy Moss to the Vikings for a third-round pick, and the Patriots won their next three games without the one-man press conference.

Belichick not only beat Moss and the Vikings Sunday, but soon after Minnesota released the receiver.

Then Logan Mankins strolled into Gillette Stadium Tuesday morning and signed his tender, so the Patriots have a 28-year-old Pro Bowl-caliber guard warming up in the bullpen as Eric Mangini and the Cleveland Browns await.

All that’s missing is Belichick, feet up on his desk, cigar in his mouth, with a Robert DeNiro belly laugh straight out of “Cape Fear.’’

The good times are rolling around the Patriots, who are looking down at the rest of the National Football League at 6-1.

“I know I’d be feeling pretty good if I were him,’’ said a high-ranking NFC executive. “But you know how Bill is. He’s probably playing the Browns’ victory over the Saints [two weeks ago] for all it’s worth.’’

The Patriots got a two-week roster exemption from the league to work Mankins back in, a league spokesman said. It probably wouldn’t be a stretch for Mankins to play some against the Browns, but it probably would be wise to hold him back at least a week.

“I would think it would be to his disadvantage if they just threw him out there the first series,’’ said an AFC pro scout. “I think there’s an adjustment time to get back into a groove.

“When you take that time off, the speed of the game is going to be an adjustment. I would work him back in slowly. Even if you just miss a week or two with an injury, it’s tough. He’s been gone for how long now?’’

Nearly 10 months, since the Patriots lost, 33-14, at home to the Ravens in the playoffs.

Mankins didn’t report to any offseason workouts after he was given a one-year, $3.26 million tender. He was among the group of players who would have been unrestricted free agents this season if the owners didn’t opt out of the collective bargaining agreement, which was their right.

Mankins refused to sign the tender, so he wasn’t under contract. The tender he signed was lowered to $1.54 million, according to ESPN. That could cause continued tension between Mankins and the organization — he told in June he wanted to be traded and thought the Patriots weren’t being true to their word — but most expect Mankins to slip in seamlessly with his teammates.

“He took a hard stand, and not many have challenged [the Patriots] across the league,’’ said the AFC scout. “But he is a teammate. He’s one of the guys. The teammates will welcome him back. Won’t be a problem.’’

Said an NFC personnel executive, “Mankins is a pro’s pro who lives on a farm. He’ll do his job, no question.’’

The Patriots probably feel they can afford to take the two weeks given to them by the league because Dan Connolly has done a solid job filling in for Mankins under the tutelage of assistant head coach/offensive line Dante Scarnecchia.

Connolly, who struggled against the Chargers Oct. 24, is coming off perhaps his best game of the season against the Vikings and the vaunted tackle tandem of Pat and Kevin Williams.

Connolly didn’t get help against either player and allowed only one quarterback hit. A poor block also resulted in a 3-yard loss by Danny Woodhead in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots ran 15 of their 23 attempts by running backs behind Connolly for 54 yards (on most, Connolly did his job). Included was Woodhead’s second-quarter score, and the final touchdown by BenJarvus Green-Ellis when Connolly was lined up at fullback. There was also an 8-yard run in the fourth quarter when Connolly completely drove Pat Williams out of the play.

“Connolly is a little bit more of a positional type blocker, has a little bit more athletic ability and feet and is not nearly as strong [as Mankins] but he’s able to flip his hips, and seal, and does a lot of those things without the power and strength that a Mankins brings,’’ an NFC personnel executive said. “They get guys that fit their system.’’

“They were aware of [Connolly’s] abilities, which is probably why they weren’t in a big hurry to get things done with Mankins. They probably figured they’d be fine with what they had there. He did a good job. Dante makes the best with what he has.’’

When Mankins does return to the lineup, those who scout the league figure the Patriots will see more of a boost in their running game, where they like to pull Mankins in their power runs. They currently rank 14th with 112.7 rushing yards per game, and are tied for 10th with a 4.2 per-carry average.

“He’s not mobile and athletic, so he doesn’t necessarily fit into our scheme, but he seems to fit well in their scheme because he’s a big body, he’s strong, and he brings a little bit of a nasty attitude, a little bit of toughness to your offensive line,’’ the executive said. “Those are the things that you forget about when you get into the playing and say, ‘He’s not as good an athlete as this guy,’ yet he brings that toughness and leadership and some of those things that you don’t initially see.

“I think you have a much better run game with him on his team.’’

Mankins, who went to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and ’09, is what some term a “Velcro blocker.’’

“He’s got some of the biggest hands you’ll ever see,’’ an AFC scout said. “Once he locks onto you, you’re finished. The guys that give him trouble are the guys with long arms that are active. Like Justin Tuck [of the Giants] in the Super Bowl. But Mankins is pretty good. Definitely top five in the league at his position.’’

And the Patriots are getting that kind of player back in the middle of the season. With everything else that has gone right.

Belichick might not be showing excitement over his latest stroke of good luck, but others are.

“The guys are jumping,’’ said running backs coach Ivan Fears. “Having another playmaker like him? Plus he’s fresh? We’re kind of excited about it.’’

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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