Dan Connolly is another one of those Patriot success stories. AnÂ UndraftedÂ Rookie Free Agent in 2005, he was picked up by Jacksonville and spent his time there battling the roster bubble before being released in September of 2007. The Patriots soon picked him up and placed him on the Practice Squad where he spent much of his time until called upon in 2009. He filled in for Stephan Neal at Right Guard for four games and put on a performance that earned him a contract extension through 2011.
It wasn’t long until the Patriots would call upon him again. In 2010, the (at the time) 2 time Pro Bowler and 1 time All-Pro selection Guard Logan Mankins was holding out and the Patriots thrust Connolly into the starting Left Guard position. After Mankins returned, Neal went down with injury once again andÂ ConnollyÂ wasÂ askedÂ to start the rest of the season at Right Guard. He held up fine, helping Patriots’ Running Back Benjarvus Green-Ellis to becoming the team’s first 1, 000 rusher since Corey Dillon in 2004. He also helped to keep Brady well protected for the majority of the season; a season in which the Patriot’s Offensive Line won the Madden Most Valuable Protector Award.
One of the biggest highlights of his career however did not come on the offensive line, but on Special Teams. The Patriots were down 17-7 in the dying seconds of the first half when Connolly returned a squib kick 71 yards down inside the Packers’ ten yard line and swung the momentum of the game. He helped set up a score that would take the Patriots into the half just 3 points down. No one downplays the significance of that game changing moment which seemed to fire up a lethargic Patriot offense.
Then in 2011, after a very up and down Preseason, Connolly was replaced at Right Guard by 5 time Pro Bowler and 2 time All-Pro Selection Brian Waters and he was pushed back into the backup role. Until yesterday’s season opener against Miami when starting Center Dan Koppen was carted off of the field with an ankle injury. Ryan Wendell, the projected backup Center, was out still and that thrust Dan Connolly back into the limelight.
Patriots Nation held a collective deep breath as Connolly lined up and took his first snap as a Patriot center. It was perfect. As was the one after that, and the one after that…and every single snap until the game ended. A lot of linemen would have buckled under that pressure but, to cap off his perfect snapping, Connolly wasn’t solely responsible for a single sack on Brady all the while he was in.
Dan Connolly is another one of thoseÂ UndraftedÂ players who wentÂ unnoticedÂ but is making aÂ nameÂ for himself in Bill Belichick’s offense. Brady’s performance overshadows that of Connolly’s but I am sure he would agree, his 500 yard passing game was made possible by the guy that was forced to play a position he had never played in the NFL before. His significance in last ngiht’s game was even overshadowed by Nate Solder’s solid Rookie debut against Cameron Wake.
Dan Connolly is the unsung hero of last nights offensive pounding over Miami. He was the unsung hero of the offense which broke numerous NFL records last year. HeÂ hasÂ filled in countless times when called upon to an exceptional standard, and that is why he is the unsung hero of the New England Patriots!
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