MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - The Patriots entered last night’s season opener against the Dolphins with one concern on the offensive line and ended the night with another major problem.
Center Dan Koppen was carted off the field with an ankle injury with 1 minute and 29 seconds left in the second quarter of last night’s 38-24 win.
Facing third and 1 from the New England 19, Tom Brady picked up the first down on a keeper. But Koppen was on the end of a gruesome injury as players fell onto his leg.
While trainers tended to Koppen on the field, Brady rushed to the sideline to take snaps with Dan Connolly, who was rotating at right guard with Brian Waters, who was signed last week.
Brady couldn’t remember the last time he had to take a snap in a regular-season game without Koppen, who watched the second half on crutches, with his left foot in a boot. Koppen has started 120 of 121 games since he joined the Patriots in 2003.
“It’s been a long time,’’ Brady said. “I mean, we’re certainly going to miss him but at the same time other guys have to step in and do the job. I think that’s part of what this game is all about. It’s other guys stepping in when they’re called upon and execute, just like [Koppen] was in there and hopefully we get him back at some point.’’
Members of the offensive line know all about filling in. Rookie Nate Solder manned right tackle in his NFL debut with Sebastian Vollmer out with a back injury.
Before the game, the Patriots promoted offensive tackle Thomas Welch from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. Not only were the Patriots without Vollmer, offensive lineman Ryan Wendell was out with a calf injury.
Solder may have been tagged to start sooner than the Patriots wanted, but their 2011 first-round draft pick held his own against Dolphins pass rusher Cameron Wake, who has had his way with the Patriots in the past. Solder joined the Patriots as a left tackle, but became a quick study on the other side.
At times, tight end Rob Gronkowski chipped in to help Solder. The offensive line held up enough for Brady to complete 32 of 48 passes for a career-best 517 yards.
“I think they did a great job protecting,’’ Brady said. “There’s a lot of communication that goes on between quarterback and offensive line. For the new guys being in there, I thought the communication was good, especially on the road the first game of the year, a lot of silent counts, I thought it was great communication.’’
The Patriots slowed the Dolphins with an up-tempo offense that may have had the Dolphins gasping but it also had Solder rushing to keep up.
“It’s a learning process. Sebastian’s our starter, and we need him in there,’’ Solder said. “I was happy to perform my role.’’
There wasn’t an official update on Koppen after the game, but he would be a major loss if he is out for a significant amount of time. Connolly handled the center duties for the rest of the game and would likely stay in that role.
“He’s the best,’’ Brady said of Koppen. “There’s no one like him. I think he and I have a great chemistry between the two of us and we always have. He’s one of my great friends and hopefully he’s back at some point.’’Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.