FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Dan Connolly almost looked embarrassed.

The starting left guard for the New England Patriots had been asked how it feels when fans say, and the media writes, that he’s the stabilizing force on the offensive line, that he needs to be in the lineup for the offense to be successful.

“I don’t know,” said Connolly, looking and sounding unsure how he should answer the question. “I think we’ve all got to do our job. All I can do is my job and ask the guys next to me to do their job. And we all just depend on each other to do that.”

But, he was asked, does it make you feel proud when you hear that?

“What makes me proud is when we go out and we get the job done and we win,” said Connolly. “As long as we can do that, I’ll be happy.”

All eyes will be on Connolly and the Patriots offensive line Saturday evening when New England plays the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. The Ravens come in with one of the fiercest pass rushes in the NFL, piling up 49 in the regular season (second in the NFL) and another five in their 30-17 upset of Pittsburgh in the wildcard round. And they’re not easy to run against, giving up just 88.3 rushing yards per game (fourth in the NFL).

“Yeah, they’re great,” said Connolly, in his seventh season with the Patriots (making him fourth in seniority behind Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork and Stephen Gostkowski). “They do a great job of getting to the quarterback. We’ve faced a lot of good D-lines this season. That’s nothing new in the NFL. It’s a lot of pressure on us to do a good job.

“It’s our job to make sure Tom (Brady) stays upright and that’s what we’re going to try to do this week too.”

Brady was only sacked 26 times this year — an improvement of 14 over last year — and the Patriots have done well against top defensive lines. But Connolly missed the last two games of the regular season to rest knee, neck and ankle injuries (it’s not easy being inside all the time) and the Patriots offensive line struggled, giving up eight sacks. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer also missed the final regular-season game.

Both should be back for the Ravens and that bodes well for the Patriots.

When the season began, the Patriots offensive line was in shambles. The only two players who knew where they were going to be were tackles Nate Solder and Vollmer. Connolly began the season at center, flanked by Marcus Cannon at left guard and Jordan Devey at right guard. It was a mess. The Miami Dolphins sacked Brady four times, hit him several more times, in a 33-20 victory. Three weeks later, in a Monday Night 41-14 loss at Kansas City, the Patriots hit rock bottom.

Brady was sacked twice, harassed all night and threw two interceptions. The next week, against Cincinnati, the Patriots settled on what would be their offensive line for the rest of the season: Solder at left tackle, Connolly at guard, rookie Bryan Stork at center, veteran Ryan Wendell (another former center) at right guard and Vollmer. Brady was sacked only 16 times over the final 12 games – half of that coming in the final two games when Connolly is absent.

Brady, who has the most playoff wins (18) in NFL history, is looking forward to having him back in the lineup.

“He’s done a great job for us this year,” said Brady. “He’s a real veteran presence. I think he’s got a lot of poise, (is) very tough, a very hard-nosed guy.”

And he’s stabilized a position that was the focal point for New England’s early-season struggles. During training camp, the Patriots traded former All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright. It wasn’t until Connolly, who was elected a team captain this year, was put in that position that the line started playing well – especially Solder at left tackle.

Solder had struggled early on, possibly trying to compensate for the less-experienced players at that position in the first four games. When Connolly was put there, Solder’s production improved.

“A lot of it is trust,” said Brady. “You’ve got to trust that the guy next to you is doing their job … all those guys are tied together.

“That job is tough to do. They’ve got the best athletes, maybe in the world, sitting on the other side trying to go kill the quarterback and they’ve got to do everything they can to defend and not hold.”

Connolly said it all comes down to communication.

“We’re kind of the team within the team,” he said. “The five of us have got to work together in our blocking combinations and things like that. So being on the same page and working together is always important.”

Brady certainly respects the job the linemen do. He called the offensive line “one of the strengths of our team.”

“As an offensive lineman, you’ve just got to be really mentally and physically tough and work your butt off to protect and to run-block,” he said. “I think our guys do a great job at that. They take a lot of pride in it and they’re well coached.”

The Patriots know it won’t be easy Saturday.

“You’ve got a great front there,” said Solder. “They play tough, they play hard. They know how to win. It’s a huge challenge for us.”

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