The Patriots' offensive line, with Pro Bowlers Logan Mankins and Matt Light anchoring the left side, allowed quarterback Tom Brady to be sacked only 21 times during the regular season, the fifth-lowest total in the league. The men who protect Brady rely on each other to get it done. Every member of the offensive line has had at least three seasons to get comfortable in the Patriots' system.
"The longer you can play together as a line the better it is," said Nick Kaczur, who has has lined up at right tackle since 2005. "You know how the guy beside you plays."
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said that hearing the same terminology daily and communicating with each other has helped them make adjustments as a unit.
"They seem to understand conceptually the importance of working together, of seeing the game through the same set of eyes," he said. "If they do that we have a chance to be successful."
They certainly have been successful more often than not this season. The perfect Pats, however, did show some weakness in the regular-season finale against the Giants, as they relied on the passing game for all but 44 yards of offense in the win. The right side of the line was missing starters Kaczur and guard Stephen Neal, and the Giants controlled the line of scrimmage.
This time around, a healthy Kaczur and Neal are back to open running lanes on the right side in the rematch Sunday night. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said that while there is a difference whenever starters are out of the game, the line's main job in Week 17 was to keep Brady on his feet, which it did.
"I thought Ryan (O'Callaghan) and Russ (Hochstein) played pretty well in that game," he said. "They did what we asked them to do, for the most part. They allowed us to do a lot in that game, because we also pass-protected pretty well and threw the ball well."
"We had players out there that have been out there and helped us win games, and I think it was more about them than it was about us," he said. "They just took control of the line of scrimmage. ... I hope we're going to run for more than 44 yards against them this time. We certainly need to."
Neal, who returned to the lineup for the Patriots' two playoff victories, said that in the end, statistics don't matter at all.
"What was the score of the (Giants) game?," he rhetorically asked. "We don't care about any other stat except the final score."
"They know how to work edges," Kaczur said. "It definitely takes preparation, and the one-on-one battles are definitely going to be big."
Neal believes coordinator McDaniels' play-calling will get the best results for the Patriots. So far, McDaniels been on target for 18 consecutive games.
"We have to do a better job of making sure we have the line of scrimmage secure," McDaniels said. "This is something we have been working really hard on the last two weeks, and hopefully it shows up in the game this time."