FOXBOROUGH — While far from signaling a changing of the guard, the Patriots were forced to start backup guards Donald Thomas and Nick McDonald, both of whom were tasked with providing quarterback Tom Brady with an impenetrable pocket in Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium.
With guards Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly declared inactive, Thomas and McDonald were thrown into the breach and showed there was little, if any, dropoff after they helped give Brady ample time during the Patriots’ 59-24 rout of the Colts. Brady completed 24 of 35 pass attempts for 331 yards and three touchdowns.
“They’re coached very hard and I think the expectations are for the position, not necessarily for the player,’’ Brady said. “So when Logan’s not in there, you’ve got to go in there and play like Logan. Hopefully we get healthy at some point, but until then, that’s why there are 53 guys on the roster.
“Each of those guys can really step in when they need to.’’
Although they were called upon to finish last week’s 37-31 victory over the Bills after Mankins and Connolly went down, Thomas drew his fifth start of the season and fourth at left guard for the ailing Mankins (ankle), while McDonald made his first start of the season at right guard for Connolly (back).
“I don’t think there were any concerns,’’ said right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who, along with left tackle Nate Solder neutralized the Colts’ edge rushers, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who managed to combine for only a pair of quarterback hurries (one apiece).
“It’s the reason why we practice,’’ Vollmer said. “Injuries happen in the NFL and it can happen to anyone at any time, really. But, obviously, Donald and Nick did a good job today. I mean, that’s why you practice in training camp and during the week. It’s to prepare for the worst-case scenarios.’’
Connolly had been listed as questionable before the game after he missed the first two days of practice last week before returning for Thursday’s workout in a limited capacity, giving rise to the hope he might be available against the Colts.
“You honestly never know how a guy is feeling until the end of the week,’’ said McDonald. “You just got to prepare every single week like you’re going to start and that’s what I did.’’
At no point during the week did McDonald attempt to ask Connolly about his health.
“No, I never say anything,’’ McDonald said. “He’s got his business and he’s trying to take care of it and I just go in there and prepare like I do every single week.’’
The outlook on Mankins offered little in the way of hope for his availability.
When Friday came and the starting left guard was absent from practice for the third consecutive day, Thomas had an inkling his role might expand into a starting one.
“My job is just to be ready, regardless if he’s there or if he’s not,’’ Thomas said. “I’m always expecting him to be there, because he’s a tough guy but I never count him out. When Sunday gets closer, you just have to be ready to go and see what happens. And I was out there playing today.’’
That Thomas and McDonald were able to step in and make a seamless transition into starting roles spoke volumes of the offensive line’s ability to adapt to adverse conditions.
“That’s something we have to be prepared to do and I think [line] Coach [Dante] Scarnecchia does a really good job of mixing guys in there during the week,’’ McDonald said. “You get a feel for the guy next to you and we all trust each other and feel like we can play next to each other, no matter who it is.’’
Even with two-fifths of the offensive line rendered hors de combat, there was little concern about the ability of Thomas and McDonald to step in.
“Well, I think obviously it’s what [Scarnecchia] prepares us for, it’s for these situations,’’ Vollmer said.
“You don’t want to see anybody to get hurt. It just happens and it’s why we practice the way we practice with different combinations in there. It’s not the first time those five were in there. We’ve done it in practice and stuff. It’s just the way we have to roll, because we don’t know what’s going to happen next week.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.