ATLANTA — Most NFL players go their entire careers without ever experiencing the thrill of taking the field on Super Bowl Sunday.
Things are different in New England.
The Patriots will play in their third consecutive Super Bowl this Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, meaning some of their younger players never have experienced an NFL season that didn’t end in February.
That group includes 11 members of New England’s current 53-man roster, including four — guard Joe Thuney, guard/center Ted Karras, linebacker Elandon Roberts and cornerback Jonathan Jones — who have been around for all three of the team’s successive Super Bowl trips.
“It’s a blessing,” said Roberts, who started Super Bowl LII last year against the Philadelphia Eagles and came off the bench against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. “It’s just a blessing. That’s all I can say.”
Roberts, Karras and Thuney are the only remaining players from the Patriots’ nine-man 2016 draft class. Jones earned a roster spot as an undrafted rookie that season. All have started games at some point over the last three seasons, with Thuney carving out an especially large role.
The No. 1 option at left guard from the day he arrived in Foxboro as a third-round draft pick, Thuney has started 56 consecutive games to begin his NFL career and played 99.7 percent of New England’s offensive snaps.
The N.C. State product was on the field for every snap this season — the first Patriots player since Tom Brady and Ryan Wendell in 2015 to do so — and will make history this Sunday by becoming the first NFL player to start a Super Bowl in each of his first three seasons.
“It is pretty remarkable,” Thuney said. “In 2016, I was pretty fortunate to be drafted by the Patriots. I was super stoked, and I’ve kind of been taking it a day at a time from there. I’m pretty fortunate to be here.”
The Patriots’ overall health along the offensive line this season has resulted in limited opportunities for Karras, the team’s top interior O-line backup, but he’s performed well when called upon, like when he started two games in place of injured right guard Shaq Mason earlier this season
Jones was forced to watch Super Bowl LII from the sideline after suffering a season-ending injury in the 2017 divisional round. A core special teamer and depth corner, he was one of the surprise heroes of last week’s AFC Championship Game, teaming up with safety Devin McCourty to lock down All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
Rounding out the list of Patriots players who’ve reached the Super Bowl in each of their pro seasons are cornerbacks J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen and Duke Dawson; defensive ends Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis; and defensive tackle Adam Butler.
Wise and Butler played bit parts in Super Bowl LII last year. The rest are Super Bowl newcomers.
Thumbnail photo via Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports Images