In the bottom-line based world of the NFL, it's sometimes hard to see the good from a game that ends in defeat. Following Sunday's tough-to-take road loss against the undefeated Broncos, the Patriots can at least take solace in this fact: their defensive leader is back and seemingly ahead of schedule.
Second-year inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, out since the first quarter of the season opener because of a right knee injury (reportedly a sprained medial collateral ligament), returned to game action after having practiced with the team for two weeks.
"Yeah, I thought Jerod ... he's a good player. No doubt about it," coach Bill Belichick said after watching game film. "He hadn't played in a few weeks, and like any player, the only way you get through that is to play. I think he made some plays. There are some other things I'm sure he'll do better next time around. But it was good to have him back out there, sure."
Mayo didn't start the game, but he came in on New England's second defensive series. Belichick explained in his postgame press conference that, while Mayo was healthy enough to play, the coaching staff didn't necessarily feel that he was sufficiently conditioned to play the entire game. Mayo rotated in and out of the lineup throughout the game, finishing with six tackles (all solo) and a forced fumble.
On the third play of Denver's second possession, rookie running back Knowshon Moreno took a short pass from quarterback Kyle Orton and turned upfield. Mayo lunged for Moreno to make the tackle, and in so doing, knocked the ball from Moreno's grasp. Patriots safety Brandon McGowan came up with the loose ball, and the New England offense converted the turnover into three points to take a 10-0 lead.
As you might expect, the NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year was less concerned about that play than he was the final score.
"It was just a tackle," Mayo said. "I really wanted the 'W,' so I'm not feeling too good right now. ... The coaches had us prepared. We just didn't execute. (Denver) just made a lot of great plays, and we didn't. The defense, we'll take this one on our shoulders."
Mayo added that he was "anxious to get back out there" and play with his teammates again, calling them "a great group of guys" who are like family to him. The feeling, it seems, is mutual.
"That's one of the leaders on our team," nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "He's so young, and he was so eager to get back, and I was so happy for him from a big brother standpoint. Hopefully, he can stay healthy enough for us to win some ballgames."
"Guys stepped up for us while he was gone, but this builds depth. Later on down the road, we'll be a better team," cornerback Leigh Bodden said.
During Mayo's absence, fellow second-year linebacker Gary Guyton assumed his good friend's position and responsibilities on the field, including wearing the helmet equipped with the coach-to-player communications device. With Mayo still working his way back into the starting lineup and full-time game action, Guyton continued wearing that helmet against Denver.
"I just have to take it one week at a time and try to get better for next week," Mayo said.
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