I'm spending 50 days ranking the top 50 players of the Bill Belichick Era, from No. 50 down to No. 1. (Click here for a criteria on how I made my selections.)
Today we reach . . . .
NUMBER 5: MATT LIGHT
Years With Patriots: 2001-2011
Playoff Games: 20
Honors: Super Bowl Champion (2001, 2003, 2004), All-Pro (2007), Pro Bowler (2006, 2007, 2010)
Why in God’s name is Matt Light this high? Am I high? Ahead of Harrison and Vrabel and Seymour and Law?
To be honest, when I scrawled the names down and started stacking them, I had Light closer to 15 than No. 5. But when I dug deep and considered my criteria -- the combination of how long Light played left tackle for the NFL’s dominant franchise, how well he played it, and the fact he was there at the start of the run of excellence and continued through into Volume 2 -- I couldn’t put him behind guys who were done and gone before the Patriots post-'09 renaissance.
Light’s position wasn’t quite thankless but it was one in which merely providing a stalemate -- nothing spectacular like a sack or a pick or a diving catch -- could be an outstanding play. Especially when the stalemate was being sought against guys like Dwight Freeney, Jason Taylor, John Abraham, Shawne Merriman, Terrell Suggs, Joey Porter, etc. Think about this: In his final playoffs, Light was blocking rookies Von Miller and Jason Pierre-Paul. In his first one in 2001, he was going against guys like Jason Gildon and Trace Armstrong, who entered the league in 1988. Light played all 16 games seven times. In 2001 he missed two games. In 2011 -- at the age of 33, he missed one game.
He also played his career with Crohn’s Disease, a condition that attacks the digestive system. After the 2004 season, Light had 13 inches of intestine removed. Light explained to Mike Reiss in 2012, "I basically got to the point, over the 3-4 years of being diagnosed with Crohn's, that I couldn't handle the pain anymore. The pain became so difficult that in the offseason it just paralyzed me. I'd hit the ground. You can't wake up. You can't sit down. You can't do anything without this becoming a problem." Light had a complication after surgery. Nearly died. Went 30 days without eating. Made it back for training camp. Nobody in the media knew he had the condition until the week of his retirement.
A high-level player at his position who protected Tom Brady’s blind side in five Super Bowls and had an insane level of toughness that was belied by his sense of humor, Light was one of the very best.