FOXBOROUGH — It’s hard to match the durability of the Patriots’ starting guards, Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney. That’s why it was odd to see Mason on the bench during New England’s last two games, hampered by a calf injury suffered in Week 8 at Buffalo.
The Patriots earned a split against Green Bay and Tennessee as Ted Karras filled in at right guard, snapping a run of 57 consecutive games played by the 25-year-old Mason.
New England’s win at home over the Packers in Week 9 marked the first time that Mason and Thuney hadn’t started a game with each other since 2015.
It’s not just their consistency and ability to stay healthy; Mason and Thuney have established themselves as one of the best guard duos in football over the last three seasons, bracketing center David Andrews in each campaign.
This interior continuity is imperative to the Patriots’ success, making Mason’s potential return Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Jets a boon for New England’s chances in the hostile environment. Mason was a limited participant at practice Wednesday but is expected to lace up the cleats and start against New York.
Thuney and Mason are ranked as two of the five best guards in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.
Coach Bill Belichick was especially laudatory of Thuney, placing him among the team’s most impactful players.
“Joe has done a great job for us,” said Belichick. “He’s one of our best players, one of our most consistent players. I thought he’s played very consistently all year, as he has the last couple years.
“We’ve had all three of those guys inside. David missed a couple of games last year, Shaq missed a couple of games this year, but overall that group’s been pretty solid, pretty dependable, pretty reliable for us. And when Ted’s filling in, which he has for Shaq the last couple of weeks and then last year for David in Mexico against Oakland, he did a nice job, too.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate in that part of the offensive line.”
With Mason, New England put its money where its mouth was, inking the 6-foot-1-inch, 310-pound blocker to a five-year deal worth $50 million last offseason.
Mason excels at creating major gaps in the run game. He attributes a share of his development to his two mates on the interior, continuity being an essential part of enacting certain run-blocking schemes.
“We’ve been together for a while so we know how each other play, and we definitely have a bond,” said Mason. “I feel like we’ve improved as an interior.
“It’s fun. We’ve been together for a few years now and those guys are my brothers. We do everything together — the O-line as a whole — but those are the two, Joe and David, we definitely feed off each other.
“We share things with each other, like different playing style, like different techniques if we see something. We’re in the interior, so we’re one. We definitely feed off of each other and learn a lot from each other.”
In the week leading up to a game against the Jets, locker-room chatter abounds regarding the difficulty of playing at MetLife. But there’s a certain Rutgers alumnus who always gets a kick out of playing on the road against the Jets.
“I think it’s cool for me just driving to the stadium,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “I know all of that area, so it’s always fun to me going to the stadium. I always see at least 10-12 people who will say, ‘Hoo-rah! Go Rutgers,’ or something like that. It kind of feels like being at home.”
This week, the stakes are even higher. Not only will New England do battle with the Jets at 1 p.m. on Sunday, but McCourty’s former high school has a chance to claim a state title on the same field the day before.
“This year will be cool because Saturday my high school is going to kill Bergen Catholic at MetLife Stadium before we get there,” he said. “It’ll be cool. Hopefully, St. Joe’s wins another state championship and then we go play Sunday.”
The Patriots ate well on their Thanksgiving Day off, perhaps no one more so than Deatrich Wise. The affable defensive end said he generally eats just one meal on Thanksgiving, but that it lasts from 8 a.m. to midnight.
Asked how he prefers his cranberry sauce, Wise chided, “On the shelf.”
That may ruffle some feathers, but rest assured, there was plenty filling Wise’s plate on Thursday.
“I am more of a sweet potato guy,” he said. “Sweet potato pies, sweet potato casserole, stuff like that. That and some mac and cheese. If those two are on point, it’s a good Thanksgiving.”
Owen Pence can be reached at email@example.com.