Patriots

Belichick: Fleming gives Patriots smarts on re-shuffled line

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Belichick: Fleming gives Patriots smarts on re-shuffled line

FOXBORO -- One day after earning a promotion from the practice squad, Cameron Fleming became the Patriots answer at right tackle.

When starting left tackle Marcus Cannon (who was forced into that spot due to Nate Solder's season-ending biceps injury) left the Colts game in the first quarter, Bill Belichick's offensive line had to get creative. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer flipped to the left side, while Fleming subbed in on the right. 

The second-year player out of Stanford ended up playing 58 snaps in his team's 34-27 victory. 

"The good thing for Cam was he did that last year," Belichick said during a press conference Friday. "Cam is very intelligent, very smart, works hard, and he's a very diligent guy. As a rookie, he was always in that situation. There were times where he was thrown into it. He's done it this year, and it was the same thing so, again, I'm not surprised.

"But I think he did do a good job, without taking a lot of reps with that group and playing pretty much three quarters of the game at that position. They got some very good pass-rushers and good players out there -- [Erik] Walden, [Robert] Mathis those guys. I thought he did a good job, but he's done that for us before, and that's why everybody's important, every role is important. You just never know how it's going to go, but he definitely answered the bell."

The Patriots may need him to answer it again this weekend. Cannon missed the team's first two practices of the week with a toe injury, putting his availability for Sunday's game with the Jets in doubt. If he can't go, Fleming likely would be reinserted at right tackle with Vollmer taking on the duties of the team's starting left tackle. 

The Patriots have provided themselves some insurance by having Fleming -- who played in nine games last season, including the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl -- at the ready. But Belichick explained on Friday that any time two players at the same position go down, as Solder and Cannon have, it's difficult to recover. 

"You lose two players at any position, on any team, that's an issue," Belichick said. "Two of anything with anybody, pick any team in the league, that would be an issue. Once you start getting into that area, you gotta start thinking about what's our emergency move, how do we get through this?
 
"Maybe it's not even so much who we play there, but now what you can actually do with that person there? How you would manage the game, what you would call if we got to that point? Third quarterback, third tight end, third right tackle, third defensive end, third safety, third anything. If you're going that far down the line, it would be an issue. Not saying you couldn't handle it, but it would be an issue."
 
The Patriots handled it last week without issue, but a challenge awaits on Sunday in the form of the Jets talented defensive line. 

Game Story: Patriots sloppy in loss to Steelers

Game Story: Patriots sloppy in loss to Steelers

Analysis and post-game sound from the Patriots 17-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Patriots searching for answers after season of road disappointments

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AP Photo

Patriots searching for answers after season of road disappointments

PITTSBURGH -- What makes it all so strange is that this Patriots team isn't all that different from last year's, or even 2016's, when it comes to the personnel. 

Those were both Super Bowl teams. One was the last team standing after the single greatest comeback in the history of the sport. The mental toughness of those teams was not questioned.

This one? 

After losing to the Steelers on Sunday, 17-10, they fell to 3-5 on the road for the season. They were called for season-high 14 penalties. They had a season-high three drops. The offense stalled in critical spots, going 3-for-10 on third down. They went 0-for-3 in the red zone. 

All of those issues -- situations that they began practicing back in OTAs -- could be filed away in the "mental toughness" folio. 

"Every year is different," Matthew Slater said. "This year is a little bit different. Obviously we've had some tough games on the road and that's the way football is sometimes. We really can't feel sorry for ourselves. There's still a lot for us to play for, but we certainly need to figure out who we are on the road as opposed to who we are at home."

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

The Patriots locker room, while dejected after a bad game, did express confidence that it can turn things around. The problem is, they're running out of time. The next time they'll be on the road, if they end up there, will be in the postseason. 

"I wouldn't say concerned," Duron Harmon said when asked about the team's road issues, "because . . . I know the type of group that we have. We all come ready to work. We are going to fix it. We are going to fix it for sure. We are going to be better next week and when we get another opportunity to play on the road, we will be better and do everything we can to get a win."

"We're still forming as one," Julian Edelman said. "We're still going. Still trying to improve. Lot of football left. Whether you win or lose, you gotta have a short memory and just get back on the train and go out and prepare next week and have a good week of practice."

Some of the things that the Patriots have been working on since the spring, though, are what's still ailing them. And as confident as players are that they'll get fixed, it's worth wondering if they ever will. It's Week 15.

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