The New England Patriots locker room was a mob scene. Moments after the Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday to advance to their third Super Bowl in four years, reporters were swarming around players, two and three deep in front of many of them -- especially the high-profile players (we can't use the word "stars" in association with this team).
|Matt Light is the only high draft pick (a No. 2 in 2001) on the Patriots O-line. (Getty Images)|
The reality: They just might be the hidden secret to the success of the New England Patriots offense. Oh, sure, Tom Brady is a great quarterback. And Corey Dillon is a heck of a runner. But where would they be without those offensive linemen in front of them?
While Brady soaks up the trappings of his success, including a black book full of Hollywood starlet numbers, the working-class linemen go about their duties with little fanfare. In fact, outside New England, you'd be hard-pressed to get even the most die-hard fans to name the five starters on that line.
This is not a line made up of big names, but they somehow get the job done. More than that, they do it well.
"You know how many teams would trade lines with them right now?" said one NFC personnel director. "Probably not a lot of them. But they play well together. If you look at them on paper, it's not an impressive group. Together, it's a different story."
In the past four seasons, counting the three Super Bowl teams, the Patriots have sent one offensive lineman to the Pro Bowl, and he's not even around anymore. That was guard Damien Woody, who went after the 2002 season but then left before this season to sign a free-agent deal with the Detroit Lions.
With the success the team has had, you'd think there would be some consistency. But the only two starters on this year's line who started on the 2001 Super Bowl winner are left tackle Matt Light and left guard Joe Andruzzi, and Andruzzi started at right guard on the first two Super Bowl teams.
The rest of this year's starting line is made up of Neal at right guard, Gorin at right tackle and Koppen at center. Koppen started last year at center, so there is some consistency there.
"There's a feeling around here that we all have to be ready to play at any time," Gorin said. "We know that the coaches have us prepared, so when it's our time we have to go out and perform."
Their play helped the Patriots finish fourth in scoring offense (27.3) and seventh in total offense at 357.6 yards per game. They also helped Dillon finish third in the league in rushing with 1,635 yards and limited the opposition to 26 sacks, the best total in a decade.