Dan Connolly finds himself in a similar situation. After a one-year reprieve due to a lackluster 2013 season by Ryan Wendell, the Patriots offensive line captain is back to being the weak link on the offensive line. In 2012, he was the struggling right guard. In 2011, he was Dan Koppen's replacement at center, between two Pro Bowl caliber guards in Logan Mankins and Brian Waters. He acted well as a replacement swing guard in 2010, and as a back-up interior lineman in 2009.
The ultimate back-up lineman seemed to falter when given the full time starting role.
To be fair, this team would not be where it currently stands this season without Connolly. The soon-to-be free agent was integral to overcoming the early season issues, and his ability to flex between center and guard gave the coaching staff freedom to try different linemen combinations.
But now that the ship has been righted, the captain might be the reason it sinks.
Connolly missed the Week 7 game against the Jets with a concussion. He's been fighting an ankle injury over the past three weeks.
In his seven games since returning from his concussion, Connolly has put in four of his worst games on the year against playoff caliber teams (Denver, Lions, Packers, Dolphins). Pro Football Focus has him as the lowest graded offensive guard since his concussion, and the lowest by a considerable margin over the past four weeks with his ankle issues.
Connolly is their lowest graded pass blocker, and it meets the eye test; something is wrong with Connolly and he needs to recenter himself.
He exited the Dolphins game with a neck injury, but Jeff Howe of the Herald noted that Connolly looked fine post-game. The issue is that Connolly isn't looking fine on the field; he's being a liability.
It's important to note that Connolly is better than most of the alternatives; he's better than Marcus Cannon or Jordan Devey or rookie Cameron Fleming. But in a season where the magnifying lens is much greater due to the departure of Logan Mankins, Connolly hasn't been able to rise up to the challenge.
Josh Kline took the field once Connolly went down, and it's possible that the Patriot use this extra time to close the season to not just give Connolly rest for both his ankle and neck, but to see if Kline gives the Patriots some extra protection up front. Kline started at right guard against both the Bills and Jets and was serviceable. At this point, serviceable might be considered an improvement.
Tom Brady and the offense have been able to game plan with quick passes to bypass the lapses in pass blocking, but maybe a player currently on the roster can help to solidify the offensive line. Maybe giving Connolly an extra week to heal would be in the team's best interest. And maybe if the answer isn't on the team, then the Patriots will be looking for the different answer some point in the off-season.