During the Patriots' Week 1 win over the Miami Dolphins last year, Mankins tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Mankins not only finished the eventual 38-24 win but also accomplished the rare and almost unimaginable feat of playing the entire 16-game season, as well as three playoff games, with the injury.
The mere thought of an ACL tear is usually enough to scare a player off the field and into the trainer's room. The likes of Adrian Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall and Jamaal Charles fell victim to the same fate during the course of the 2011 season, and each immediately pushed his way off the field and onto the operating table. But Mankins played through the pain and even did it at an elite level, being named to his third All-Pro team.
Granted, Peterson and the rest of the running backs listed are affected more severely by the injury, as they, unlike Mankins, need to cut and change direction on their knees. But the utter determination and will of Mankins to continue through the discomfort of the injury, not to mention risk the future of his playing career, shows a selfless dedication not often seen in today's NFL.
Mankins has always been a gritty player with a mean streak and work ethic unmatched by many around the league. His hard work has earned him countless accolades, including four Pro Bowl selections and the aforementioned All-Pro designations, as well as a reputation among the NFL's elite blockers.
Mankins' reputation has been earned with years of dedication and focus, but this most recent revelation says the most about his character. That kind of makeup could be just what the Patriots need to return to glory.
It's been eight long years since the Patriots last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy at season's end, with two prime chances spoiled along the way. This season already holds the expectations of another Super Bowl run, even with the bevy of youth — the Patriots have the youngest roster in the NFL, with an average age of 26.7 on Opening Day.
While the youngsters slowly develop throughout the season, though, it will be the commitment and will of players like Mankins that will truly determine the destiny of this team.
Tom Brady has always been considered a leader and a player with an insatiable desire to win, but those traits have come into question in recent years after several underwhelming postseason performances. But while Brady continues to fight off the growing perception that he's lost that "hunger," the answer to his and the Patriots' Super issues may very well lie with the heavily bearded man to his right.
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