Patriots getting that extra push from Mankins
FOXBOROUGH — Logan Mankins doesn’t apologize for the added spice he has brought back to the Patriots’ offensive line. The guard gives opponents an extra tug, hangs around after the whistle, and speaks up when he feels the need.
He doesn’t think that makes him a mean guy.
“I’m a friendly guy, too,’’ said Mankins yesterday. “That’s the way I’ve always played, even in high school and college. That’s how I was taught to play football. That’s how I like to play.’’
Mankins cranks the motor on an offensive line that has protected Tom Brady well and widened gaps for Patriots running backs.
On Nov. 3, Mankins returned to the team, ending a dispute over a restricted free agent tender offer. Mankins missed offseason team-organized workouts, training camp, and the first seven games of the season before he would wear No. 70 again.
But when he returned, it didn’t take long to see what the Patriots had been missing.
The 6-feet-4-inch, 310-pound lineman didn’t like it when Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu showed a little too much aggression with Brady, in his opinion. After the Patriots’ 39-26 win Nov. 14, Mankins said, “We don’t care how long your hair is, we’re not going to let you do what you want to our quarterback.’’
Nearly two weeks later, when the Patriots beat the Detroit Lions, 45-24, on Thanksgiving, Mankins described a little pushing and shoving toward the end of the game as “friendly conversation between two heated teams.’’
Mankins has a way with his descriptions of events, and they are often accompanied by a grin. Sometimes the extra energy can lead to fun, he said.
“I don’t hear a whistle,’’ Mankins said. “It makes the game fun when stuff like that is going on. You don’t want to just do your job and then walk back to the huddle. You like to mix it up a little bit out there.’’
Toughness is what every team needs, and Mankins said he has plenty of teammates who bring that. And he buys into the theory that being tough means not wearing sleeves when it’s cold.
“We don’t wear sleeves,’’ he said. “Elbow pads are good enough.’’
That kind of thing represents what the Patriots were missing without Mankins. He returned four days before they played the Cleveland Browns and started that game. He said he “felt good’’ but didn’t need to play a game to find out whether he was ready for the season. While he was away, he did all he could to stay in football shape.
“Hey, it’s not my first year here,’’ Mankins said. “I knew the offense before I got here. I just had to get the physical stuff done.’’
If things didn’t work out with the Patriots, there were plenty of teams that would have given Mankins a chance. The Patriots may have been winning with Dan Connolly playing in Mankins’s place, but when Mankins returned, it only made the line that much better, according to Bears coach Lovie Smith, whose team faces the Patriots Sunday in Chicago.
“Logan is arguably one of the best linemen in the game,’’ Smith said. “Any team can do well without him, which the Patriots did. They continued to win without him, but adding another special player, a special lineman to the mix, has to help your team quite a bit.
“Just look at the video of him. He’s as tough as there is. He comes to work every day. He and I have the same agent, so I know a little bit about him. Everything is all good. You want a guy like that on your team.’’
Mankins, a two-time Pro Bowler, has played in every game he has been eligible for since the Patriots drafted him in the first round out of Fresno State in 2005. Eighty-five regular-season and nine playoff games later, he continues to show why he is so appreciated.
“I’ll tell you, I’m sure that all 31 other teams would have gladly taken him if he hadn’t chosen to go back,’’ Smith said. “But knowing the type of guy he is — I’m talking about being loyal to the organization — there’s only one place he was going.’’
Mankins kept in touch with his teammates and was among Connolly’s biggest supporters. Connolly moved to right guard when Stephen Neal went down with a shoulder injury and was eventually placed on injured reserve.
The Patriots may have gained from Mankins’s return, but there are always players ready to step in at any moment.
With each game, the offensive line is gaining more consistency. Opponents have sacked Brady six times since Mankins returned; he was sacked 12 times in the first seven games of the season.
“I’m happy with the way it’s been going,’’ Mankins said. “This is going to be a challenge this week with Chicago. They got a really good defense. We really admire the way their defense plays and how hard they play and the players that they have.’’