When New England Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo left Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints with an injury, the severity of his ailment wasn’t known.
The Patriots now know, and it’s not good.
Mayo, the heart and soul of the Patriots defense, underwent surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle on Tuesday, according to Les Carpenter of Yahoo! Sports.
Local Boston radio station WEEI put a spin on Mayo’s surgery, saying it’s possible he could return in eight weeks. That would have him back for a potential playoff run. But that’s also a best-case scenario—Chicago Bears middle linebacker D.J. Williams suffered a similar injury last week and is in fact lost for the season.
The news couldn’t have been any worse for the Patriots, who have already lost the services of nose tackle Vince Wilfork to a season-ending torn Achilles tendon.
If there were two players for the Patriots that would be considered indispensable or irreplaceable, it’s Mayo and Wilfork. Mayo is an every-down player who is agile enough to cover tight ends and running backs, and strong enough to plug the middle against the running game.
In addition, cornerback Aqib Talib was also lost to a hip flexor injury, although his injury isn’t quite as serous. He could return in a week or two.
Mayo, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was the team leader with 55 total and 35 solo tackles. He’s also the signal-caller on defense.
The Patriots came out of Week 6 ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring defense. With Mayo now gone, that’s a number that’s sure to rise in the coming weeks.
The Patriots will have a tough choice to make in the next few weeks. They’ve already used their only IR/designated to return spot for running back Shane Vereen. They’ll now have to decide whether to place Mayo on the season-ending injured reserve list or carry him on the roster while he recovers. With roster spots at a premium that’s a dicey proposition.
Mayo suffered the injury during the fourth quarter of the Patriots’ 30-27 over the Saints. He was attempting to break up a Drew Brees pass intended for running back Darren Sproles and immediately grabbed his right arm in pain. He was seen after the game wearing a sling.
The Patriots are 5-1 despite injuries to key players, including Wilfork, Mayo, Talib, tight end Rob Gronkowski, running backs Shane Vereen, wide receiver Danny Amendola and offensive guard Dan Connolly.
At this point, the Patriots depth will be sorely tested.
Head coach Bill Belichick has always had the ability to deliver in the past with major injuries, but at this point the list of walking wounded is growing longer and longer. Even the best of coaches have issues in dealing with a myriad of injuries.
The Patriots have the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers coming up in the next three weeks. While their combined record is under .500, each team presents unique challenges that the Patriots will have to now face with a depleted defensive corps.
The loss of Wilfork and now Mayo may not sound the death knoll for the Patriots’ postseason hopes, but it certainly does nothing to help, either.
Much will depend on the backups’ abilities to fill in over the next several weeks, and it’s hard to bet against Belichick’s ability to adapt, given his track record of success.
But Super Bowl odds for the Patriots definitely took a hit, and if Mayo is in fact lost for the season, their chances to advance far in the postseason will take a major hit as well.