Ever since the Patriots lost starting right tackle Marcus Cannon to an ankle injury Oct. 29, LaAdrian Waddle has proven to be a capable backup along the offensive line.
He played just one snap in 2016, but had considerable value on the depth chart as the team’s swing tackle — capable of playing on both the left and right side. Waddle started three games in the absence of Cannon, his toughest test coming against the Broncos, when he held his own against Von Miller.
The line was further depleted after Waddle injured his ankle against the Dolphins Nov. 26, but third-stringer Cameron Fleming stepped up against the Bills in Sunday’s win.
Fleming entered the game having played just two snaps this season. When Cannon missed the Week 3 game against the Texans because of a concussion, Fleming started at left tackle, with Nate Solder acting as an eligible receiver in the jumbo formation. Fleming played the next snap at left tackle before Solder returned, and Waddle played that entire game at right tackle.
Coach Bill Belichick liked the effort he saw from Fleming, who played all but two offensive snaps against the Bills.
“I thought Cam played hard,” Belichick said Monday. “He was aggressive, had a lot of good plays.
“Cam’s been a solid player for us for four years, and he’s always been ready to step in whenever we’ve called on him at both tackle spots and sometimes at guard and jumbo tight end and things like that. But I thought he gave us a solid performance yesterday.”
Gaining yards on the ground was key for the Patriots, who rushed for 191. Rex Burkhead rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns, and Dion Lewis ran for 94 yards on 15 carries. Burkhead and Lewis averaged 6.5 and 6.1 yards per carry, respectively, and broke free for big chunks of yards frequently.
It was the second consecutive week the Patriots bullied their opponent in the rushing game, after gaining 196 yards against the Dolphins.
According to footballoutsiders.com, which ranks offensive line play, the Patriots have the league’s second-best run-blocking unit, despite losing Cannon in Week 8.
“We had a couple explosive plays yesterday,” Belichick said. “That made a big difference in the yardage when you can hit a couple of 30-yarders in there. That adds up in a hurry.
“But, whether that will be able to happen again, we’ll have to go out and do it again.”
In a tight spot
The Patriots will be without Rob Gronkowski when they play the Dolphins Monday night, barring a successful appeal of the one-game suspension he was given for his late hit on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White.
That could leave the Patriots with just Dwayne Allen and rookie Jacob Hollister at tight end; they have combined to catch eight passes for 77 yards and one touchdown this season. Allen did not catch a pass in the first eight weeks and has five catches in the last four games. Will Tye, who has played for the Giants and Jets, has been on the practice squad since Oct. 12.
Despite the limited production from Allen — who had 35 catches for 406 yards and six touchdowns last season with the Colts — Belichick has praised the veteran for his contributions in other areas of the offense.
“Dwayne’s had a very solid role for us all year long,” Belichick said. “He’s played a lot of football, and I’m sure he’ll continue to play a lot of football for us.
“Some things are different than the way he was taught to do them in the past, but he’s been very open and receptive to trying to do what the team needs him to do on any particular play or situation or technique or whatever it happens to be.
“He’s got a great attitude, he’s willing to do anything that we’ve asked him to do to help the football team, and you can’t ask for any more than that.”
Reedy was ready
Bernard Reedy, who was promoted to the 53-man roster Saturday, made his debut against the Bills on special teams with one punt return for 11 yards. After playing nine games for the Buccaneers this season, Reedy was signed by the Patriots Nov. 22. “We used Bernard in a couple return situations in the game, so that was his role in this game,” Belichick said. “We’ll see what it is going forward. I’m not sure. That could depend on a lot of things.” . . . For the third time in six games, the Patriots held their opponent to fewer than 10 points. They now rank ninth in the league, allowing an average of 18.6 points per game.