After a slow start to the season – New England was 2-2 and there were calls for Tom Brady’s benching – the Patriots have scored 80 points in the last two weeks and have now won four of five.
This past Sunday’s win in Buffalo, however, was costly, as the Patriots lost running back Stevan Ridley and linebacker Jerod Mayo to season-ending knee injuries.
“The Mayo one is really interesting,” Patriots analyst Andy Hart said on The MoJo Show, “because on some level, you talk to fans and they think he’s a little overrated. They want to know why he doesn’t make more plays. This is a guy who’s a Pro Bowler, a former All-Pro, a No. 10 pick. And then you talk to the players, you talk to the coaches – Bill Belichick just raves about Jerod Mayo and his value to the team. He said if you looked up team player in the dictionary, (you’d see) Jerod Mayo’s picture. This is a guy that calls the plays. (He’s a) tackle machine. And this is the second straight year (they’ve lost) him to a major injury (in Week 6). I guess that’s the one benefit. They played through it last year.”
Mayo, 28, leads the Patriots in tackles by a mile. His 53 tackles are more than double that of Jamie Collins (26), who comes in at No. 2. The Patriots will need great play from Collins and Dont’a Hightower from here on out.
“This is a massive blow to this team both in the locker room and on the football field,” Hart said.
Of course, at least the Patriots didn’t lose Vince Wilfork, too. Last year, they lost Wilfork and Mayo – and they still made it to the AFC Championship.
“Knock on wood for now, Wilfork is still playing pretty well upfront,” Hart said. “But they lack depth at linebacker. Deontae Skinner, an undrafted rookie, saw a lot of playing time last week and will see a lot more coming forward.”
Ridley, meanwhile, leads the Patriots in rushes (94), yards (340) and rushing touchdowns (two).
“I think it’s pretty big,” Hart said of losing the 25-year-old. “This is a guy who’s had his fumbling issues over the years, and that’s certainly got him in the dog house at various times with Bill Belichick. But a year ago, they had LeGarrette Blount to fall back on. They don’t have that anymore. They have guys that are smaller, (pass-catching) backs with Shane Vereen and James White. And then they have Brandon Bolden, who’s sort of been a special-teamer, fill-in guy over the years. But to expect him to suddenly become the lead back is a little much.
“For (Ridley’s) faults with the fumbling, (he) is a guy that’s a former 1,200-yard back,” Hart said. “He has a nose for the end zone. He’s been very productive punching it in when they need him to in the red zone. I wouldn’t be surprised if this team looks a little outside the organization to find a veteran that maybe can carry some of the load.”