FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Dan Connolly almost looked embarrassed.

The starting left guard for the New England Patriots had been asked how it feels when fans and media say 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, who is expected to return to the lineup Saturday after missing the last two games of the regular season because of various injuries.

“As long as we can do that, I’ll be happy.”

All eyes will be on Connolly and the Patriots’ offensive line when New England plays the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC divisional-round playoff game Saturday at Gillette Stadium. The Ravens come in with one of the fiercest pass rushes in the NFL, piling up 49 sacks in the regular season (second in the NFL) and another five in their 30-17 upset of Pittsburgh in the wild-card round last weekend. 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.”

The Patriots have done well against top defensive lines. Brady was sacked just 26 times this season – 14 fewer than last year. But the offensive line struggled while Connolly was sidelined, giving up eight sacks. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer also missed the final regular-season game, but he’s expected to play Saturday.

When the season began, the New England offensive line was in shambles. The only two players who knew what position they’d be playing 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 and hit him several more times in a 33-20 victory. Three weeks later, on a Monday night in Kansas City, the Patriots hit rock bottom. Brady was sacked twice, harassed all night and threw two interceptions in a 41-14 loss.

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 left guard, rookie Bryan Stork at center, Ryan Wendell at right guard and Vollmer.

Brady was sacked only 16 times over the final 12 games – half of those coming in the last two games when Connolly was absent.

Brady, who has the most playoff wins (18) by a quarterback in NFL history, is looking forward to having Connolly back.

“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 moved to Mankins’ old spot 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 guard in the first four games. When Connolly was put there, Solder’s performance 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.

“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,” Solder said of the Ravens. “They play tough, they play hard. They know how to win. It’s a huge challenge for us.”

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