FOXBOROUGH — Two straight weeks of seeing Tom Brady pull himself up off the turf after getting hit or sacked left the Patriots’ offensive line a maligned group facing tough questions about their performance, and one regular-season game to do it better.
Following Sunday’s 28-0 win over Miami, the offensive linemen wanted to wait until Monday’s film review before they talked specifics. But generally, it was an improvement over the last two games, when Brady was sacked six times and hit repeatedly.
“I felt like Tom was more upright,” center Ryan Wendell said. “He got hit tonight, and any time he gets hit that’s too much, so we’ll work on improving that for next week . . . well, two weeks from now.”
Wendell caught himself, temporarily forgetting that Sunday’s win, combined with a loss by the Texans to the Colts in Indianapolis, gave the Patriots a first-round playoff bye. They learned of the Texans’ loss minutes before kickoff, and suddenly knew that they controlled their postseason fate. Win and they’d get an extra week of rest.
Keeping a Dolphins defense in check that sacked Brady four times in a 23-16 Patriots win on Dec. 2 would be one of the keys. By giving their quarterback enough time to throw on a defense ranked 25th against the pass, good things were bound to happen.
Brady was sacked only once on Sunday, and the offensive line gets a pass on that one: Bryan McCann came on a cornerback blitz and blew past tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who didn’t spot or pick up the fast-charging defensive back. The only other time Brady was hit, according to the statistics, was when linebacker Kevin Burnett blitzed in the first half with the Patriots deep in their territory. Brady threw the ball away, incomplete.
Other than that, the Dolphins’ front, led by Cameron Wake, was largely rendered moot. The Patriots’ offensive line did its part, helping Brady throw for 284 yards and opening up rushing lanes for 167 yards.
“I’m not exactly sure what the stats are on that, but I think we did a decent job today,” said right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. “We’ll find out tomorrow exactly how well we did, but I’m sure, after every game, there are things you have to do better.”
But, Vollmer was asked, there didn’t seem to be as much pressure on Brady this time?
“That’s a nice way to put it,” Vollmer said.
Vollmer is one of four offensive line starters who have been on the injury report, so beating the Dolphins and getting an extra week of rest should benefit a group dealing with late-season injuries.
“I hope that it’s advantageous, and we’ve got to maximize the time and make the most of it,” said left tackle Nate Solder. “It’ll be a chance for me to get some things corrected and get ready to play good ball.”
It seemed plenty good on Sunday, with the Patriots in control from the start — unlike the previous two weeks, when they trailed the 49ers and Jaguars early. This time, the Patriots were the ones who staked themselves to an early lead, and never let up.
With the offensive line limiting the pressure Brady faced, it helped eliminate the pressure of a tight game and allowed the home fans to enjoy the first shutout at Gillette Stadium since the Patriots beat the Titans, 59-0, in 2009. That game also came with fists of snow being thrown around in the stands.
“I thought we did some things good,” Solder said. “It certainly went well there for a while, and we played pretty well. I was happy with my play.”
Said Vollmer: “You never go into a game trying to get the guy hit, that’s always a focus on doing our job and blocking well. I just think we went about our business, tried to prepare, tried to play good football.”