As of late Tuesday, there was still no official word from the Patriots on the long-term futures of linebacker/co-captain Jerod Mayo and running back Stevan Ridley, both of whom suffered right knee injuries against Buffalo this past Sunday. All indications, however, are that the injuries were serious and potentially season-ending.
For Mayo, the play-caller on defense, this marks the second straight year he’s been seriously injured in a Week 6 game. Last season, it was a pectoral muscle against New Orleans that ended his season. Sunday at Orchard Park, he was carted off the field.
“Unfortunately, we had that last year. It hurts to lose a guy who’s given so much to this team for so long,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower remarked. “I mean, next man up. That’s the motto we had last year. It’s going to be a big void to fill. Definitely not one man can fill those shoes.”
In all likelihood, Hightower will be asked to assume the play-calling duties (signified by a green dot on the back of a player’s helmet) in Mayo’s absence, as he did a year ago. But Hightower himself has been dealing with a left knee injury that has kept him out of the past two games. And this week being a quick turnaround, with a Thursday night game at Gillette Stadium versus the New York Jets, it’s even more urgent for Hightower to get back on the field.
“I’m just doing what I can,” he continued. “Everything’s holding up pretty well. I’m still doing treatment and rehab. The next question is, do I think I’m going to be able to play Thursday? That’s day to day. I’m holding up. All I can do is what they ask me to do, and I’ve been doing it. Hopefully I’ll be out there.
“Definitely sucks, these last couple of games, seeing those guys out there having fun and playing the way they were playing and not being a part of it. The most I could do was help give those guys checks and alerts and say what I was seeing on the sideline, just doing my part. Hopefully, that was the last game of the season I have to do this.”
“We’re going to miss him,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said of Mayo. “We really are, but at the same time, we still have to move on and continue to play great football.”
On the other side of the ball, New England has options to fill Ridley’s role in the backfield. Veteran Brandon Bolden may see more carries, as could rookie James White.
“It’s difficult to lose anybody, but [Ridley]’s a great leader,” said Bolden. “They haven’t told me anything. I just came in this week expecting to do whatever they ask me to do.”
“I’m just going to do whatever the coaches tell me,” echoed White. “The harder you work, the easier it is to perform. You have to be confident. Continue to work hard during practice, get good reps, make the most of those reps. If I get a chance [in Thursday’s game], I’ll make the most of those reps.”
Then there’s practice squad vet Jonas Gray waiting to be promoted to the active roster, though he said as of Tuesday he’d been given “no real indication” one way or the other.
“I’m just kind of preparing the same as I have been. Time will tell,” he maintained. “The staff does a great job of making sure we prepare the same way every week. The guys that aren’t playing are getting extra film study, extra work. For me, it’s the same mindset. Just waiting for my number to get called. It’s all a plan. Bill [Belichick] knows exactly what he’s doing. All I can do is continue to work.”
Cornerback Brandon Browner is another Patriot hoping to make his regular season debut for New England on Thursday night. He was eligible to come back two games ago, but the team elected to wait another week. However, Browner came down with an ankle injury last week and missed the Bills game.
“It’s a lot better. I feel like I’m good to go,” the veteran insisted Tuesday. He was present at the team’s walkthrough practice on the Gillette game field earlier in the day.
“I’m excited to be back out there. I’m trying to get ready to play this Thursday. I’m ready to go. I’m itching, just like anybody else that’s been held out or hurt. I’m itching to get out there, but I’m taking it a day at a time. Sometimes it gets tough, but this is our job. When you love what you do, you get up looking forward to go to work.”
The Tuesday walkthrough was one of two the Patriots will have this week to prepare for New York’s visit. That limited practice time and curtailed activity makes it even more challenging to get ready for a Thursday game.
“Both teams have to deal with it,” tight end Rob Gronkowski pointed out, “so, just got to get your rest, get the treatment, keep the body in the weight room. It’s a quick turnaround. Just got to be prepared, so when Thursday night comes, you’re good to go.”
“This is for everybody, man. The whole league has to go through the situation where you play a Sunday game and then have to turn around and play a Thursday night game,” added Revis. “Some guys may not like it because it’s too short, but we can’t do anything about it. The schedule is the schedule.”
Weather forecasts are calling for potentially heavy rains in the Foxborough area on game night – an eventuality for which the Patriots made contingency plans. Tuesday’s walkthrough featured wet footballs to help players mimic the conditions they could see against the Jets.
“You have to prepare for what’s going to happen out there in the game, whether it’s a rainy game, a snowy game, we don’t know. It might be a hurricane,” Revis chuckled. “Just got to prepare the best way you can.”