Patriots

Tough talking about Steeltown for Jerod Mayo

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Tough talking about Steeltown for Jerod Mayo

Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo is usually succinct in his sound bites. After a loss, he's about as chatty as a brick. A good-natured brick.

Mayo had his weekly meet with Tom Curran two days after New England fell 25-17 to the Steelers. Leading in the match up, quarterback Tom Brady flagged it as a learning opportunity.

So what did Mayo and the rest glean from giving up 10 of Pittsburgh's 16 third-down chances?

"We fought to the very end," he said. "We still had a chance to win the game at the end of it. It was a tough game for us."

He's not exactly wrong.

Though the defense gave Brady's bunch just 20 minutes to score, they did tamp down in the game's waning moments to give the 'O' another chance. It just wasn't enough; too much damage had already been done. The time of possession, the third downs, and the inability to stop Pittsburgh's aerial attack (365 yards surrendered) stacked the deck well in the Steelers' favor.

And it was a step back for an already struggling defense.

"It surprised us a little bit. We had a great week of practice and just didn't go out and execute like we wanted to."

Curran joked with the linebacker about his brevity.

"Yeah. Great answers," Mayo laughed.

Okay. Losing is a sensitive subject. No need to throw that on the breaking news wire. Talk of New England's weak defense has been building for almost four years. The deficiencies in the secondary, especially, have been obvious. But Mayo says the team isn't working itself up with worry.

How? There's at least one key strategy.

"Not listening to guys like you, to start off," he ribbed Curran. "But at the same time, we know people are going to say what they want to. We're not ready to hit the panic button. We know we have a good football team and we'll just continue to get better. We aren't even at the halfway point yet, so we have a long way to go."

Up next is the New York Giants. Eli Manning brings his 102.1 quarterback rating to Gillette for the first Pats-G-men showdown since New York won Super Bowl XLII 17-14 in mind-bending fashion.

Mayo, a senior at the University of Tennessee in 2007, says he watched that game at home in Virginia. He had no problem admitting who he pulled for.

"Patriots, baby."

His investment in New England is one NFL draft and many paychecks deeper now. He brings things up to date with Curran in the second half of the interview.

With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

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With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

Continuity along the offensive line was one of the reasons the Patriots were able to have the season they had in 2016. They tossed aside the early-season experiementation that Bill Belichick favored at times in order to establish a starting five that could be relied upon, if healthy, start to finish. 

They attacked 2017 with the same approach, but because of injury the consistency simply has not been the same. Both starting tackles, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, have missed time injured this season, and Cannon will sit out again on Sunday as he continues to deal with an ankle injury. 

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The interior of the line has remained largely in place until this week when center David Andrews came down with an illness, missed two practices, and was ruled out. 

On a line where familiarity is key, where the center is the one making the calls, the one in constant communication with Tom Brady, what now?

The Patriots will likely turn to second-year man Ted Karras, who has the ability to play both guard spots and also backed up Andrews for the vast majority of training camp. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder was released at the end of camp, quickly signed to the Patriots practice squad, and then he re-signed to the active roster in Week 1 when Malcolm Mitchell was placed on injured reserve.

Karras, drafted in the sixth round in 2016 out of Illinois, was named a practice player of the week earlier this year and he earned some praise from Belichick before the Patriots took off for Mexico City.

"Ted works hard," Belichick said. "He loves football. He gets there early, stays late."

Belichick noted that Karras (nine snaps, all against the Broncos) hasn't played much this season, but he did see plenty of work early last season when he filled in for an injured Shaq Mason. He was the Week 1 starter at right guard in a win ver the Cardinals and he played 41 snaps in Week 2 against the Dolphins. 

The Patriots offensive line could also potentially turn to Joe Thuney at center. He's practiced there before and got some experience at the position during his time at NC State. This seems like the less likely move since the Patriots would then have to deal with two new players at different spots -- center and left guard (whether the player replacing Thuney would be Karras or rookie Cole Croston) -- which could have a domino effect on the rest of the line. 

However the Patriots choose to handle it, they'll face an interesting test south of the border. The Raiders feature a pair of talented pass-rushers in Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack, who Belichick says play all over the offensive line, yet Oakland is tied for last in the league in sacks. 

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Bill Belichick takes time to admire yet another opposing punter

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Bill Belichick takes time to admire yet another opposing punter

If the Patriots are about to go up against one of the more talented punters in the league, one way or another, you're bound to hear about it from Bill Belichick.

Sometimes Belichick will go into great detail on opposing punters in one of his weekly press conferences. Sometimes he'll go out of his way to highlight a punter during one of his "breakdowns" on Patriots.com. 

He went the latter route this week, gushing over Raiders punter Marquette King.

"We usually don't have the punters on the highlights here, but King's a very athletic punter," Belichick said. "He runs a lot of fakes, a guy you have to really be conscious of as a both holder on field goals and punts on fakes."

King is the No. 2 punter in the league when it comes to net punting (45.5 yards), and he's tenth in the league in terms of the number of punts dropped inside the 20-yard line. 

"King is an athletic guy," Belichick reiterated, "and he can change field-position big time."

Add him to the list of big-legged punters -- "weapons," if you will -- Belichick has praised in the past.

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