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Vince Wilfork leads the way for revived Patriots defense

AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Vince Wilfork #75 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens 20-23. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is not an easy man to move. That’s especially true this season because you can’t get him off the field.

Mike Reiss of notes that Wilfork played 51.8% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2009. That’s fairly typical for any run-stuffing nose tackle, especially one comically listed at 325 pounds. (He’s probably closer to 400 than 300 pounds.)

In 2010, Wilfork’s snap total went up to 69.8%. By this season, Wilfork was up to 86%. In the AFC title game, Wilfork played 67 of 70 snaps. That’s 95.7%.

You can measure leadership in a lot of ways. Wilfork leads by making his presence known almost every snap. He leads by playing more than younger counterparts like Haloti Ngata.

“He leads the way for us on defense,’’ coach Bill Belichick said after the win over Baltimore. “Vince is obviously our most experienced player and he’s been a great leader, great captain all year. His leadership has been tremendous.”

Wilfork was a valuable rookie on the last Patriots title team in 2004. That was a veteran-laden defense on the tail end of a dynasty. This time is different. This is Wilfork’s defense, Wilfork’s time. Now in his eighth season, the 30-year-old is in that career sweet spot where experience and talent meet up perfectly.

Wilfork’s performance against the Ravens was one for the ages: Six tackles, four hurries, three tackles for loss, and a sack. Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe says Wilfork was double or tripled teamed ten times.

“To be honest with you, Vince was ready last week to play this game,’’ linebacker Jerod Mayo said after defeating Baltimore. “He has a ring and no one else on this defense has a ring. And he just expressed the joy that you would get from winning this game and he’s not a liar.”

We are struck by Wilfork’s versatility. He has played defensive end instead of nose tackle quite a bit in the playoffs. He is rushing the passer in addition to being the team’s best run stopper. He’s even picked off two passes this year. (And he knows what to do with the ball.)

New England’s defensive line has put together its two best performances of the season in successive weeks. In a game where the Patriots struggle to match up with the Giants in many areas, don’t be surprised if New England’s defensive line creates all sorts of problems against a shaky New York offensive line.

Vince Wilfork will be leading the way. You can’t get him off the field, and you can’t block him either.