This playoff appearance has been a Long time coming for Patriots vet

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Of the 53 players on the New England Patriots' roster, 19 have never appeared in a playoff game.

On one end of the spectrum is a nine-member rookie class. On the other end is nine-year veteran Chris Long.

Simply put, this is why Long signed a one-year contract with the Patriots in the offseason after spending the first eight years of his career with the Rams. “I’m just very thankful to be playing football right now,” he said last week.

Long did his part to help the Patriots in a 14-2 season, playing all 16 games (seven starts) and recording 35 tackles and four sacks. He played 65 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.

Teammates such as Rob Ninkovich say it’s been fun to watch Long, 31, finally get the chance to experience the postseason. “The first day we signed Chris, I reached out to him, and from that day forward, we had a good connection. We’ve had a great time this year,” Ninkovich said of his locker room sidekick. “Throughout the season, I’ve got to know him and hear his story and the things he’s had to go through. Every year here, we have a goal and we’re going toward that goal, while in other places that goal is not attainable. So it’s awesome to see him have this opportunity to continue a season past every season he’s had before, when he’d done the last week in December.”

Long will join fellow veterans Shea McClellin (fifth year), Dion Lewis (fifth year), Barkevious Mingo (fifth year) and Chris Hogan (fourth year) in making his first career playoff appearance on Saturday night.

Younger players such as Eric Rowe (second year), Trey Flowers (second year) and Matt Lengel (first year) join that group in the first-timer category.

As for Long, he has talked about being excited to play meaningful football, and his approach has made an impression on coaches and teammates. “He gives us a level of experience, high effort, dependable player, works hard. High effort, a guy that has always played hard and is ready to go,” coach Bill Belichick said.

The Patriots have used Long in a four-man rotation alongside Ninkovich, Flowers and Jabaal Sheard, which has seemed to benefit each player, giving them fresh legs later in games.

The Long story short: His addition to the Patriots has been well received across the board.

“Extremely hard-working, loves the game of football, very dedicated to his craft, true professional as far as his approach and his attack every day. He’s been great to be around,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “I think he has enjoyed the process; a guy that’s out there working really hard every day to get better and play hard for his teammates. And that’s all you can really ask for.”