FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Logan Mankins doesn’t see what the fuss is all about.

Now in his sixth year as the starting right guard for the New England Patriots, Mankins has earned a reputation as someone who’s always willing to give an extra shove, or even a hand in the face, after the whistle blows.

He’s been called a dirty player by opponents after games, worse names during games.

“I don’t know if I’m that,” said Mankins. “I’m a friendly guy too. That’s just the way I’ve always played, in high school, in college. That’s the way I was taught to play football, so that’s the way I like it.”

However you categorize Mankins, this much is evident: Since he returned to the Patriots after holding out for the season’s first seven games, the offensive line has never been better.

The Patriots take a five-game winning streak into tonight’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium, and everyone points to the offensive line — and Mankins — as a big reason.

“The old adage is that you’re only as good as your offensive line,” said running back Sammy Morris. “They’re all playing to their ability, it’s what we have seen every day in practice, every day since minicamp back in June, and training camp.

“It’s an athletic bunch and they do a lot of things well.”

Since a 34-14 loss to Cleveland on Nov. 7 — Mankins’ first game back — the Patriots averaged 39.2 points a game in beating Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Detroit, the New York Jets and Chicago. They’re the first team in NFL history to average over 30 points without committing a turnover in five consecutive games.

They’ve allowed only eight sacks and are averaging 121 yards rushing (nine more than their season average).

Coincidence that the streak began after the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Mankins returned? Most people think not.

“Look, Logan’s a phenomenal teammate,” said left tackle Matt Light. “He’s a great player, a Pro Bowl/All-Pro type of guy. So you want that guy standing next to you.”

When the Chicago Bears were preparing to play the Patriots last Sunday — a game the Patriots won easily 36-7 — Coach Lovie Smith said Mankins has made an obvious difference in the Patriots.

“Logan is arguably one of the best linemen in the game,” said Smith. “Any team can do well without him, which the Patriots did. They continued to win without him, but adding another special player, a special lineman, to the mix has to help your team quite a bit. Just look at the video of him. He’s as tough as there is. He comes to work every day.

“He and I have the same agent (Frank Bauer), so I know a little bit about him. Everything is all good. You want a guy like that on your team.”

Quarterback Tom Brady, who has thrown for at least two touchdowns in each of the last six games, said Mankins has brought that edge back to an offensive line that was already playing well. Dan Connolly started in Mankins’ place while he was out, then switched over to right guard when Stephen Neal was lost for the season to an injury.

“I think Logan is really a catalyst for what we do up there,” said Brady. “He’s a great player for us. He’s tough, he’s physical, he brings a really mean spirit to the group. Logan plays until the echo of the whistle. It goes right up to the end, so he’s always in the middle of some altercation or something like that.

“If there’s a pileup, I know Logan’s involved. That’s just how he plays. That’s his style and I think he brings a great element of toughness to our offense.”

Mankins, who was the Patriots first pick in the 2005 draft out of Fresno State, said he’s simply having fun.

“I don’t hear the whistle,” he said with a smile. “That’s the fun. It makes the game fun. You don’t want to just do your job and walk back to the huddle. You like to mix it up a bit.”

Light had this perspective of Mankins’ after-the-whistle antics: “He’s not not looking for a fight, I can tell you that.”

Gerard Warren, in his first season as a defensive lineman for the Patriots, said Mankins and Light are two of the toughest offensive linemen he has ever faced.

“I played against Matt a few times when I was with Denver and Cleveland and he’s always tough,” said Warren. “And just to see Logan’s attitude … it’s a tad bit different than any offensive lineman in the NFL, if you know what I mean.”

Mankins, who has never missed a game he’s been eligible to play for the Patriots, held out of training camp — making headlines when he accused the Patriots of not keeping their word to him — and stayed away for the season’s first seven weeks. While most media reports had him back home in California, he said he was actually close by, talking to the Patriots, playing golf with them, and working out. He was also biding his time.

He returned, he said, “because it was just time.” And while he didn’t get a new contract, he said everyone is on the same page now. He won’t say anything beyond that. And whether he gets a new contract remains to be seen.

He said he was ready to play immediately. “It’s not my first year here,” he said. “I knew the offense before I got here. I just had to get the physical stuff down.”

So far, it’s apparent he has done that.

“They’ve consistently done a good job,” said Coach Bill Belichick. “We haven’t had a lot of missed assignments. You don’t see a lot of guys running through the line of scrimmage unblocked, bearing down on the quarterback. Usually we have a hat on everybody and that’s really a credit to those guys individually preparing, but also working together, making sure they’re all seeing the same picture and making the same read.

“(Offensive line coach) Dante (Scarnecchia) does a great job with that group and gets all five guys to play as one. That’s really what offensive-line play is about.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]