No matter where New England’s Bill Belichick plugs Ryan Wendell into the lineup, the coach always can rely on him to do his job.
That was the case Saturday, with the Patriots fighting to get back to the AFC Championship game.
After rookie center Bryan Stork hurt his knee in the second quarter against Baltimore, Wendell, the former Fresno State standout, moved from right guard to center — where he had started two games earlier in the season when Stork was out.
The Patriots’ offense went on to flourish in a 35-31 victory.
In advance of Sunday’s AFC title game against Indianapolis, the Patriots have been practicing without Stork and with Wendell at center.
“Ryan worked at all the positions, all the way through the spring — center and guard,” Belichick said earlier this season. “Ryan’s a really smart player. He’s one of the smartest players that we have, that we’ve had.”
Veteran lineman Dan Connolly was pleased with how the position group helped protect Tom Brady.
“We always try to prepare as many guys as we can to be able to fill in a spot,” Connolly said Wednesday. “You never know what’s going to happen in a game. Guys get hurt; that’s just the nature of the business. So, you try to prepare guys to come in and not slow down at all. Yeah, having the different combinations early in the year definitely prepared us for what we’ve faced late in the season.”
Belichick, in his early-season assessment, said Wendell had come a long way since joining the franchise as an undrafted free agent in 2008.
“He really understands everything that we’re doing, including all the communication with the quarterback and so forth.”
TDs for pair of ex-’Dogs
Former Clovis High/Fresno State star Tyler Clutts had a memorable game, though he would have gladly exchanged a touchdown for a win.
Clutts scored the first TD of his NFL career on a 1-yard pass from Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, but the Cowboys were eliminated in the divisional round with a 26-21 loss at Green Bay on Sunday.
He was the first Dallas fullback to catch a touchdown pass since Chris Gronkowski against Chicago in 2010, and the first in the postseason since Daryl Johnston (from Troy Aikman) versus Carolina in 1997.
Dallas came up short in part because of a big day for another ex-Bulldog. Rookie receiver Davante Adams had seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown — a career long 46-yarder to pull the Packers within 21-20.
• Denver tight end Virgil Green (Tulare) started and had one catch for 4 yards in a 24-13 loss to Indianapolis. He was targeted twice by Peyton Manning. … The Broncos signed kick returner Isaiah Burse (Fresno State) to a future/reserved contract.
• Carolina Panthers linebacker Ben Jacobs (Fresno State) played on special teams in a 31-17 loss to defending Super Bowl champion Seattle.