But when Solder wasn’t able to turn the corner and play against the Cardinals on Sunday, coach Bill Belichick decided to keep things simple.
Instead of playing third-year lineman Cameron Fleming at right tackle, his college position, Belichick decided to start him at left tackle in New England’s 23-21 win over Arizona. That kept Marcus Cannon, Vollmer’s replacement, at right tackle, and meant making just one personnel move instead of two.
On Monday, the coach didn’t come right out and praise Fleming, but he also didn’t knock him.
“Cam did a credible job over there in blocking a couple good pass rushers,” Belichick said. “He gave us some plays in the running game and hung in there in passing protection, so I thought he did a pretty solid job.”
The unit allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to be sacked twice (including one on which the young quarterback fumbled) and the Patriots averaged just 3.4 yards per rush. But this is also not the most seasoned unit that longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, back this season after a brief retirement, has ever coached.
Fleming and Cannon were at the ends. Second-year center David Andrews and rookie left guard Joe Thuney both played every snap, while rookie Ted Karras started at right guard and ceded 14 snaps to second-year guard Shaq Mason, who played with a broken right hand.
Whether or not the team gets Solder back for next Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, Belichick is confident he’s got the right positional coach at the helm.
“I think the world of Dante,” Belichick said. “I think he’s as fine a coach as anyone I’ve coached with, and I’ve had the opportunity to coach with a lot of good ones. I’d put him and [Alabama coach Nick] Saban up there.”
On a night where he completed 24 of 33 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown, the highlight of Garoppolo’s performance might’ve been a third-and-15 completion to Danny Amendola in the fourth quarter.
After the pocket broke down, Garoppolo bought some time with his feet before finding Amendola down the middle. The 32-yard completion helped set up the winning field goal.
While Garoppolo didn’t do much on the ground, just 12 yards on four attempts, it was his confidence in moving the pocket that left an impression.
“There was no panic to him,” said Matthew Slater. “He really was poised. The game wasn’t too big for him.”
Added Belichick: “He doesn’t hang onto the ball, he gets it out of there on time. But if things are covered, he’s made good decisions in and out of the pocket on those extended plays.”
Brady had it covered
Tom Brady said he watched a lot of football Sunday while serving the first game of his four-game suspension. Brady spoke to Westwood One Radio before Monday night’s Steelers-Redskins game.
“Watched a lot of football,’’ Brady said. “It was fun to sit on the couch and see a lot of those games from a different perspective. It was great to see the Patriots finish off the night with a huge win in Arizona.’’
Brady was asked if he channel-surfed for games. “I watched that one channel, that Red Zone channel, that captures everything,’’ he said. “Pretty amazing. There’s a lot to learn every week in the NFL.
“It was fun to watch football on Sunday. Obviously I’d much rather be out there playing.’’
Brady was impressed with the Patriots’ victory.
“It was a great game to watch,’’ he said. “The team looked like they were focused, prepared. Lot of great plays by Jimmy, by the skill players. To get up, 10-0, like that was huge. We always talk about starting fast and we certainly got off to a fast start last night.”
And naturally, Brady was asked about Garoppolo.
“He was great,’’ Brady said. “It was a great night for him and our whole offense. It’s tough to go on the road, and especially to be without some of your best players . . . it was a hard-fought win.’’
Tight end Marcellus Bennett and safety Devin McCourty both raised their fists at the conclusion of Sunday’s national anthem in a gesture to highlight social injustice. Several other players around the league, including McCourty’s twin brother Jason, a cornerback for Tennessee, made similar gestures . . . Seven defensive linemen played at least 20 snaps for the Patriots. That rotation met its intended goal of keeping players fresh toward the end of the game, especially when defensive end Chris Long was held inside of two minutes, a penalty that momentarily pushed the Cardinals out of field goal range . . . Slater praised the opponent, saying, “That’s not the last you’re going to hear from the Arizona Cardinals. They are going to have a great season.”