Joe Vellano got an A for effort.
The refs got a C for not noticing it.
Andrew Luck was flushed from the pocket, appeared to have running room, then had the rug pulled out from under him by Vellano, who was engaged by a blocker but still managed to sneak his left foot out enough to trip the Colts quarterback.
It went down as a one-yard sack early in the fourth quarter last Saturday, Indianapolis punted and New England scored on the ensuing possession to break open a close game.
By virtue of that win in the divisional playoffs, Vellano and the Patriots will be in Denver today for the biggest game of his life, the AFC championship game against the Broncos, one win away from the Super Bowl at the Meadowlands in two weeks.
Vellano, an undrafted free-agent rookie defensive tackle from Rexford, is no longer a starter as the Patriots continue to juggle and platoon their injury-riddled defensive line.
The Christian Brothers Academy graduate is still contributing in important ways, though, and will have to be on his toes like never before when the Patriots try not to be sawed in half by the Peyton Manning magic act today.
The hard part will be ignoring the smoke and mirrors, but the Patriots were able to pull that off in week 12, when they beat the Broncos in overtime, 34-31. Vellano said the New England defense needs to stay organized and stick to their assignments no matter how much Manning gesticulates and switches plays pre-snap.
“Communication is a huge factor,” Vellano said on Wednesday. “You have to be prepared, consistent and play hard with a quarterback of that caliber.”
After Vince Woolfork tore his Achilles’ tendon against Atlanta on Sept. 29, Vellano started the next eight games, including the win over Indianapolis, seven at left tackle and one at left end.
In the Patriots’ last two games, his playing time has been reduced to 11 snaps against the Bills in the regular-season finale and 17 against the Colts. Seven of those plays were on special teams.
He continues to be productive, with nine tackles in 21 regular snaps. Oh, and that sack.
Fox Sports officiating analyst Mike Pereira, the former NFL ref, gave the crew a grade of C on his blog, in large part because of the missed tripping call.
Asked post-game if he felt the trip, Luck said, “Yeah, I felt something hit my shin. I’m not sure what, though.”
“I was trying to make a play, that’s all,” Vellano said. “He went to scramble, I tried to get off the block and I guess my leg came out. You take it any way you can get it.”
Vellano wasn’t being coy.
At this level, at this point in the season, you don’t quibble over style points.
Resourcefulness is rewarded; results are all that matter.
Manning had a poor game against New England in November, completing 19 of 36 passes for just 150 yards and an interception. Vellano’s last tackle came in overtime, when Manning fumbled and it was recovered by running back C.J. Anderson for no gain.
Knowshon Moreno went nuts, though, with 224 yards as the Broncos totaled 280 and averaged 5.8 yards on 48 running plays.
“We started fast in that game, which is something we have to do again,” Vellano said. “We didn’t quit, and we were able to string some plays together to get them off the field. There’s no question they’re a great team on both sides of the ball and at all positions.”
One of the continued sources of feedback for Vellano is his former position coach at Maryland, Greg Gattuso, who was just hired to replace Bob Ford at UAlbany.
“We talk pretty regularly,” Gattuso said at his intro press conference. “He’s one of my favorite people. He goes, ‘Coach, I can beat the center across his face, but they won’t let me. What do I do?’ I said, ‘Do what your coaches say.’ He says, ‘But if I can get them to let me put this game in, then I can go in and get the sack.’ I said, ‘Joe, just play and do what they’re telling you to do.’ ”
Some NFL players go their entire career without getting a shot at the Super Bowl.
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Vellano won’t overwhelm anyone with his size, but he’s been able to carve out a nice little spot on this roster as a series of injuries have pushed a variety of players into unexpected roles.
“It’s been a very fun ride, a great experience,” he said. “But it’s still football, and injuries are a part of it. Every week is its own week, and this one is no different.
“A lot of different things happen throughout the year, and we’ve got a pretty good rotation, so I’ve been able to stay fresh.”
Fans are invited to the Centre Street Pub at 308 Union St. in Schenectady for a Patriots viewing party with family and friends of Joe.
The Pipekings band, including Vellano’s saxophonist uncle, Joe, will play from 1-3 p.m., followed by the game at 3. As his uncle said in an email, come watch old Joe play the sax, then watch young Joe play the Broncos.
“This is a huge opportunity for us,” young Joe said. “You can’t let all the outside stuff affect you, the hype of the game and all that.”