Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly were all smiles at several points this season. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly were all smiles by the end of the season. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We’ve looked at special teams, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends and quarterback. Now, it’s the offensive line:

Depth chart: Tackle Nate Solder, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, guard/center Dan Connolly, guard/center Ryan Wendell, center Bryan Stork, guard/tackle Marcus Cannon, guard/tackle Jordan Devey, guard Josh Kline, tackle Cameron Fleming,

Overview: It was a wildly up-and-down season for New England’s offensive line. After losing two mainstays — longtime position coach Dante Scarnecchia retired in the offseason and veteran guard Logan Mankins was default just before the start of the season — the group had to make some serious adjustments over the course of the year. But once he got fully healthy, the addition of rookie center Bryan Stork created some stabilization, and allowed veteran guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell to rotate back to areas of strength. And while Nate Solder struggled at times throughout the season, his fellow tackle on the other side — Sebastian Vollmer — continued to hold up well. (Vollmer was named to as a second-team All-Pro by Pro Football Focus.)

Few things are tougher than trying to quantify successful offensive line play — in many cases, you don’t necessarily need the five best pure linemen. Instead, it’s the five who work the best as a unit. As a result, it took some time to sort through what combinations worked and some didn’t. In addition, there was some getting used to the idea of not working with Scarnecchia and Mankins, two constants that had come to define the Patriots offensive line.

With the new group, there were struggles — big ones. The idea of an occasionally shaky left tackle and a rookie center hardly inspired confidence in the fan base. But the group grew and adjusted and evolved over the 2014 season, and while it was far from perfect most of the time (and Brady’s concerted efforts to get the ball out as fast as possible), it all worked. The bottom line is that while it’s always a little dicey to measure pass protection via sacks, Brady was sacked just 21 times in 2014 — almost half of the total he took in 2013 (40) and the lowest since 2009, when he was sacked 16 times overall. And while the running game wasn’t overwhelming (New England averaged 107.9 rushing yards per game, 18th in the league, while becoming the first team to win a Super Bowl without a back finish the season with 100 or more carries), the line cleared a path for the Patriots to top 100 yards on the ground on seven different occasions, including the postseason.

As is the case up and down the roster, the Patriots have to address some personnel/free agent questions. That includes the status of Connolly, who will hit the market this offseason. With that in mind, it wouldn’€™t be a surprise to see New England chase after an offensive lineman at the end of the first round, likely a guard who could step in next to Stork and continue to bolster Brady’€™s protection. Bill Belichick tied a personal mark last spring when he drafted three offensive linemen. (He selected three offensive linemen in one draft on one other occasion.) Expect him to equal that this year.

Best moment: The New England offensive line was fairly stout through one of the tougher stretches of the season — through the deadly six-game stretch against (mostly) division leaders that was supposed to sink the Patriots, Brady was sacked three times in all, and had enough time to complete 68 percent of his passes and fire 17 touchdowns and just five picks. In addition, New England averaged 116 yards per game on the ground through that six-game contest. Not bad for a team in desperate need of Richie Incognito.

Worst moment: The first four games. Brady was sacked nine times in all in the first quarter of the season, as the offense couldn’t gain any sort of traction through that stretch in large part because the offensive line was so wildly ineffective. In the first quarter of the season, Brady ended up with a 59 percent completion rate, and averaged just under 200 passing yards and one touchdown per game. As a team, the offense averaged just 20 points per game on the way to a ragged 202 start.

By the numbers (courtesy Ryan Hannable): Here’€™s a look at the final regular-season numbers for the New England offensive line with the starters and with any other combination:

– Solder, Connolly, Stork, Wendell, Vollmer (7-1 record) — Weeks 5, 8-14: Brady: 214-320 (66.9 percent), 2,433 yards, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 103.6 QB rating, 4 sacks

– Any combination besides above (5-3 record) — Weeks 1-4, 6, 7, 15, 16: Brady: 160-263 (60.8 percent), 1,675 yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs, 89.8 QB rating, 17 sacks

Money quote: “I understand how the media operates. I understand you all have a job to do. I was doing the same thing, if you will, in a little different way. But I understand that. Does it affect me, less or more because I did that? I don’t know if I could say that. … All I care about is that my men come out of a game like they did after last game and say, ‘Coach, I feel good. I’m healthy. We did it right. We had success.'” — offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo in early November after he and the rest of the offensive line struggled with a rough start, but managed to right the ship, getting healthy at the right time

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler appeared in-studio Thursday on NFL Network’s “Total Access” and “NFL AM.” Here are a few quotes from his appearances:

On if he thought he knocked the ball away on the catch by Jermaine Kearse:

Malcolm Butler became a national superstar with his game-saving pick at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Malcolm Butler became a national superstar with his game-saving pick at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler appeared in-studio Thursday on NFL Network’s “Total Access” and “NFL AM.” Here are a few quotes from his appearances:

On if he thought he knocked the ball away on the catch by Jermaine Kearse:

“Yeah I did [think I knocked it away]. I got up pretty fast thinking that I made a play, probably to get up and show a little swag or something like that. But that wasn’t the case. The ball was in the guy’s hand. Situational football is what the New England organization is all about and I had the instincts to get up and try to knock the ball away and get him out of bounds and save a touchdown — an easy touchdown.”

On his thoughts after Marshawn Lynch carried the ball to the 1-yard line:

“I gave my best effort. You can’t be mad at yourself with your best effort. Yeah [I thought the game was over]. Most definitely, just like everybody else.”

On his interception:

“I just said ‘If I’m wrong, I’m wrong; they’re on the 1-yard line, they’re going to run it anyway. But if they pass it, I’m going to be on it.'”

For video of Butler’s appearances, click here and here. For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Pernell McPhee could be in for a big payday as he enters free agency. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Pernell McPhee could be in for a big payday as he enters free agency. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class ‘€” instead, they’€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks and Torrey Smith. Today it is Pernell McPhee.

Pernell McPhee
Position: Defensive lineman/outside linebacker
Age: 26 (Dec. 17, 1988)
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 280 pounds

The skinny: McPhee is a versatile defensive player out of Mississippi State, who just wrapped up his fourth season in the league. It was his best season as a pro, as he finished with 7.5 sacks and 27 tackles, both career-highs. He also recorded 35 quarterback hits. A major piece of the Ravens defense this past year, he excels on the defensive line as he can move around and get after the passer no matter where he lines up. With it being a contract year for him, there’s no question he picked the best year to have a career-year, as he is likely to cash in with a good payday. The Ravens didn’t negotiate with Arthur Jones a few years back when he hit free agency and he bolted to the Colts, so there is evidence to suggest Baltimore will likely be moving on.

Patriots fans might remember McPhee from the divisional round game this past year, as McPhee sacked Tom Brady on the play where he got up very animated and was then poked in the eye by Timmy Jernigan. Brady had a bloodshot eye for a few days after the game.

By the numbers: Baltimore is 12-3 over the course of McPhee’s career in games he records a sack.

Why it would work: Any team would love to have McPhee’s services for next season and the years to come. He is a unique talent that can line up virtually anywhere in the front-seven and make plays all over the field. Being only 26 years old, the Mississippi State product is just entering his prime of his career and still has room to grow. The Patriots, as well as seemingly every other team in the league, could use a player like McPhee who can get after the passer — as successful pass rushers are hard to find in the NFL these days.

When it comes to the Patriots, McPhee would be a nice addition and work well with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the edges, complicating things for opposing quarterbacks. All 32 teams in the NFL could make McPhee work well in their defense.

Why it might not work: This answer is pretty simple — money. A successful pass rusher entering the prime of their career, coming of a career-year is going to get paid. With other highly paid players on the Patriots defense — likely a new contract for Darrelle Revis, and some sort of deal with Devin McCourty — the money just isn’t there for McPhee, especially when the Patriots already have players like Ninkovich and Jones, who do essentially the same thing, just on a lesser scale. Not to mention Dominique Easley, who was limited in his rookie season this past year, eventually being placed on season-ending injured reserve.

A baseline for a contract for McPhee would seem to mirror Brian Orakpo and Tamba Hali, who are each making $11 million a year. This isn’t to say McPhee will be making that much, it goes to show his contract will not be anything of value, which will likely keep the Patriots away from making any sort of offer.

Quote: “Yes, I pray to God I’€™ll be back. I love Baltimore. That’€™s the part of the business they handle. I just handle the business on the field.”€ - McPhee said in the days following the Ravens’ loss to the Patriots, although it’s been reported recently McPhee will not be re-signed by the Ravens.

Our take: While it doesn’t seem like McPhee will be returning to Baltimore, it doesn’t seem like New England will be in his future either. It isn’t a matter of lack of talent, or fitting into the Patriots’ system, it’s a matter of the money. McPhee will be demanding and is deserving to be paid. The 26-year-old will likely be able to find a home where he is the best player on the defense and the team can build their defensive schemes around him, or if he wants to take a bit of a lesser deal, he could be a player to go to a team that is looking for their defense to take it to the next level and contend for a Super Bowl with McPhee taking them over the top. McPhee is in a very good position because of the year he’s coming off of.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

There aren’t many families as athletic as the Jones family — Chandler is a defensive end for the Patriots, Arthur plays on the defensive line for the Colts, and Jon “Bones” Jones is a UFC fighter.

Chandler, the youngest child, says he wants to fight Jon, the middle child, for charity.

Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

There aren’t many families as athletic as the Jones family — Chandler is a defensive end for the Patriots, Arthur plays on the defensive line for the Colts, and Jon “Bones” Jones is a UFC fighter.

Chandler, the youngest child, says he wants to fight Jon, the middle child, for charity.

“Me and my brother used to fight all the time when we were young … and I’m pretty sure I can take him down now. I am way bigger than he is,” Chandler said to TMZ Sports.

Chandler said he wouldn’t want a full length fight, just one round for charity.

“It will be fun if we actually did a one-round match for charity … that would be fun,” he said. “If I win, he would have to donate to the charity of my choice and vice versa.”

Even if Jon agreed to the fight, it doesn’t seem like it would happen, as Chandler plays for Bill Belichick, who would likely not be in favor of his defensive end fighting a UFC lightweight champ during the offseason.

“I don’t know how my coach would feel about it. I don’t think it would fly,” Chandler said.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

There was the Summer of Gronk, and now it appears we’re in the midst of the Winter of Gronk.

Escaping the snow in New England, Rob Gronkowski is enjoying the sunshine in Florida and on Wednesday night he took in a Florida Everblades ECHL hockey game. The team invited him to play dodgeball during one of the intermissions on the ice, and of course Gronkowski didn’t turn it down.

“The [Blades] got a win tonight, and we got some dodgeball in,”€ Gronkowski said via the Naples Daily News. “My throws were kind of off, but they had some power behind it. It was good to see the hometown team get a win. It’€™s good for the town, and it’€™s cool that everyone comes out to support them.”

“This is one of the most beautiful places I’€™ve ever seen,” he added. “I visit the area a couple of times a year. I like to chill and do some stuff around the town; we come to some Everblades games once in a while.”

The Patriots tight end posed for pictures with fans, and visited with the team in the locker room as well.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

In his second-ever appearance with David Letterman Wednesday night on CBS, Patriots coach Bill Belichick sat through some good-natured grilling at the hands of the talk show host.

Bill Belichick made his second appearance with David Letterman on Wednesday night. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick made his second appearance with David Letterman on Wednesday night. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

In his second-ever appearance with David Letterman Wednesday night on CBS, Patriots coach Bill Belichick sat through some good-natured grilling at the hands of the talk show host. Letterman quizzed him about a variety of topics, including Deflategate, what happened to Jonas Gray, and the age of quarterback Tom Brady.

Letterman, an avowed Colts fan, needled Belichick about the scandal involving under inflated footballs, hinting that Belichick knew the real story about the “horseplay” involving the “football nonsense.” Belichick responded with a flat, “No.” Letterman went after him again, and again, the coach responded with a “No.”

Belichick then fired off a quip of his own, saying that the Patriots were going to have Letterman called to testify as part of the Wells Report.

“We’re gonna bring you in to testify when we get the investigation next month,” Belichick said.

Letterman also asked about running back Jonas Gray, who rushed for 201 yards one week and then found himself on the outs after oversleeping and missing a meeting.

Belichick: “Well, that’s just a big story. You know the media.”
Letterman: “So, the guy didn’t miss a meeting?”
Belichick: “Well….”

Letterman also drew a smile from Belichick when he asked about the age of the 37-year-old quarterback, saying “he’s my age.” Belichick responded with an acknowledge of Brady, and after Letterman asked about their relationship, Belichick talked about their shared love of golf.

“We played golf last year at Pebble Beach. He gave me a pretty good licking there.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Is there even a chance Peyton Manning joins Rex Ryan in Buffalo? (Getty Images)I have no idea if this is feasible under the salary cap. I have no idea if there's interest from either party. Someone else can sort out those details.