The Patriots were shellacked at the hands of the Dolphins on Sunday and we bore witness to one of the weakest performances in the Bill Belichick era. The coaches bungled the defensive alignments, while the offensive line appeared to disintegrate upon contact.
What was once was a historical strength for the team because a historically bad unit overnight.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Patriots offensive line allowed Tom Brady to be sacked, hit, or hurried on 25 different match-ups (3 sacks, 6 hits, 16 hurries. Michael Hoomanawanui is flagged with another sack). For comparison, the Denver Broncos offensive line allowed Peyton to be affected by a single solitary hurry.
No, Dan Connolly is not a great player. He was below average on Sunday. In fact, he was just as mediocre as he's always been.
That alone should be a testament to his ability. The rest of the offensive line falls to pieces and Connolly still manages to play at his normal level of production. But that backhanded slap of a compliment doesn't do justice when talking about Connolly.
If you've followed the blog, you'll note that I've called Connolly the offensive line's weak link since 2010. And when you factor in his glaringly bad contract with a $4.083 million cap hit, sandwiched between fellow bad contracts Danny Amendola ($4.575 million) and Kyle Arrington ($3.625 million), it seemed as if Connolly should have been an easy cut this off-season.
Instead, Connolly gets the promotion to team captain. And in my opinion, in the absence of Logan Mankins, no one deserved that promotion more than Connolly.
Connolly was extended with the expectation that he'd be the center of the future, the eventual replacement for Dan Koppen. Extenuating circumstances forced him to play the guard position, until he became a super-sub on the starting line. He could plug-and-play at any interior spot and provide average production, which is serious value when it comes to team building and roster management.
His ability to put the team first and wear multiple hats is what should be most applauded when discussing Connolly. Like Vince Wilfork sliding from nose tackle to defensive end in the 3-4, or Jerod Mayo moving from inside linebacker in the 3-4 to outside linebacker in the 4-3, or Devin McCourty moving from cornerback to safety, or even Logan Mankins moving from left guard to left tackle.
The will to put the team's success over any personal desires is the mark of a Patriot captain.
So when the Patriots traveled down to Miami, and New England didn't have a full set of starting caliber players, only four players started every snap on offense: QB Tom Brady, LT Nate Solder, LG Marcus Cannon, and C/G Connolly.
Connolly rotated between center and guard for the entire first half, until Ryan Wendell was injured in the third quarter, and didn't skip any more beats than anyone would expect from him.
The captain played wire-to-wire in multiple roles and was one of the best offensive lineman for the team.
And that's not a back-handed compliment. Connolly showed why Belichick has kept him around for all these seasons and why there's no better player on the team to be named team captain.