FOXBOROUGH - Matt Light walked into the Patriots' locker room yesterday a little lighter in the wallet after his brawl with Miami linebacker Channing Crowder, but thankful National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell didn't force him to spend his Thanksgiving weekend like so many other football fans: sprawled on the couch at home watching games.
Light and Crowder were each hit with $15,000 fines but not suspended for their roles in a toe-to-toe throwdown following Stephen Gostkowski's 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter of New England's 48-28 romp over the Dolphins Sunday in Miami, meaning quarterback Matt Cassel will have his starting left tackle to protect his blind side in Sunday's matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers and their league-leading defense.
"It will be great to have Light out there, and I'm happy they came up with that ruling," Cassel said yesterday. "As a quarterback, you love your left tackle, especially Matt Light. He's such a great player."
Light was ejected with 7:08 remaining after Crowder got chippy with him on Gostkowski's field goal that made it 41-28. Crowder bull-rushed Light and pushed him into Gostkowski, continuing the action after the kick sailed through the uprights.
Light pulled Crowder's head down and ripped off his helmet. Crowder rose up in a spray of dreadlocks and retaliated by charging Light and taking a swipe at him. Light responded by grabbing a fistful of Crowder's locks, pulling his head down, and slamming three punches at his head, which, in effect, wound up costing Light $5,000 per pop.
He got bang for his buck.
There were concerns Light could be suspended for Sunday's game. Asked yesterday if he had any such concerns, Light said, "You know what, honestly, I think that matter is kind of a closed deal now. It was what it was. Obviously, I'm not happy with what my actions were and I don't think that was the way to go. In my mind, it's a closed deal now.
"They've made a decision on it and we're going to move forward and get ready to play a good Steelers team," he added. "I think that's where everybody's concentration should be right now, and that's definitely where mine is at this point."
The Patriots, though, dodged a bullet. Pass protection will be at a premium against Pittsburgh's fierce rush, led by outside linebackers James Harrison (12 sacks) and LaMarr Woodley (10 1/2 sacks).
"It's big," said guard Logan Mankins, Light's sidekick on the left side of the offensive line. "We need him. We're going up against the No. 1 defense in the league, with two pretty good pass rushers on their team and we're going to need all of our guys."
It's likely the NFL, which has taken a harsh stance against rules violators and repeat offenders, took a lenient approach with Light and Crowder because it was their first offense.
But what if Light had been suspended? How would that have affected the Patriots' preparations? Bill Belichick didn't want to fathom that scenario, but he would not have allowed it to cause disruptions.
"We'll prepare the same as we always do," he said. "Right now, we're preparing for everybody to be ready to go."
Said Mankins, "Well, our motto here is when someone's not there, someone else has to step up. I'm sure whoever they put in - Mark [LeVoir] or Wes [Britt] - would've done a good job. But we're not worried about that. Matt's here and we're past that and now we're worried about the Steelers. It's going to be a tough fight Sunday."
It would have been tougher, though, without Light.
"Yeah, they're about as good at doing it as anybody," Light said of the Steelers, who are allowing a league-low 235.4 yards per game. "Over the years, it's always been a certain style down in Pittsburgh. They've always been a very physical team. I think back to my rookie year [in 2001], going back and playing those guys, it was always about playing a physical team that can move around a lot and they'd hit you at every angle.
"I think for us up front, it's just a matter of recognizing what they do, trying to get a hat on a hat, and it really comes down to the physical side of it - who can outlast the other guy. I think this is going to be a really big challenge for us offensively."
Asked if he was worried about other opponents trying to get under his skin, Light smiled and replied, "I've been here eight years, boss, and this isn't my first rodeo. I think we're all good."
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.