It's never a good sign when a team has to rotate offensive linemen. It means that neither of the players that see the field are good or consistent enough to hold the position full team. It means that the offensive line is in trouble and it means that a solution needs to be around the corner- or it might be the downfall.
The Jets racked up four sacks and 11 quarterback hits on Tom Brady, a ridiculous amount of contact (the most all year) that clearly disrupted the Patriots offensive tempo. In fact, until New England adjusted and realized it was a Shane Vereen game halfway through the third quarter, the rushing game had 6 carries for 9 yards.
Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was quoted after the game saying the Jets defensive front was "feasting" on the Patriots offensive line. It's hard to dispute that, especially when Richardson was seen at one point discarding Ryan Wendell and running straight at Brady.
The Patriots opened up with guard Josh Kline in the place of the injured captain Dan Connolly. They pulled tackle Nate Solder in favor of Marcus Cannon at left tackle, and kept substituting back-and-forth all game. The pulled Kline and shifted Wendell from the right side to the left side, so rookie Cameron Fleming could see time at right guard.
In all, it was a slight improvement over the early season line that featured both Cannon and Jordan Devey at the guard positions, but it's a major flaw for a team trying to capture a Super Bowl title. Hopefully the return of Connolly can provide stabilization to the line, but since he's hurt his ankle, the play of the line as deteriorated.
The fix on the horizon? Honestly, it could just be the extra rest for Connolly bringing back the quality of play during the Patriots fierce run in the middle of the season. It's also fair to note that Cameron Fleming played well at right guard and adds another player to pot of possible starters. Ultimately, the Nate Solder, Connolly, Bryan Stork, Wendell, and Sebastian Vollmer line will be asked to carry the team, with Marcus Cannon and Fleming as the additional blockers.
The mid-season offensive line was strong enough to win a Super Bowl, but the line that's shown up for the past three or four weeks won't be able to protect Brady against some of the top defensive lines in the playoffs- teams like the Broncos, Seahawks, and Cardinals would wreak havoc.
The Patriots are sitting in prime position as they move forward to both rest and restructure the offensive line. But the first step in improving is to acknowledge the line is the team's Achilles heel and that there is a lot of work left to be done.