Patriots

Patriots lose a leader with Mayo's retirement

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Patriots lose a leader with Mayo's retirement

When Bill Belichick rolled the dice in Indianapolis back in 2009 and failed, you knew there was going to be howling.
 
Fourth-and-2? From your own 28? With 2:08 left and Peyton Manning on the opposing sideline?

Joining in the criticism that week was Tedy Bruschi, newly-minted as an ESPN analyst. Bruschi said that Belichick’s decision was rooted in a lack of confidence in his defense.
 
When us media types showed up in the locker room and dutifully asked players, “What’s your reaction to what Tedy Bruschi said?” one voice forcefully but diplomatically pushed back at the Patriots’ legend.
 
“I have the ultimate respect for Tedy and everything he’s done for this organization, but he’s not in this locker room at this point in time so he doesn’t know the feeling that this defense or this team has,” said Jerod Mayo. “We still have our confidence, we still have our swagger and we’re gonna go out Sunday and show . . . the media, I guess.”

At the time, Mayo was a second-year linebacker out of Tennessee. But nobody wondered who the hell he thought he was countering Bruschi. Instead, Mayo’s willingness to say something that galvanized was one of the few positives of an otherwise sloppy, rudderless year.
 
The 10th overall pick and Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008 was assuming the mantle of leadership in the locker room.
 
He would lead differently than Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison did. He was more inclusive, less judgmental and his sense of humor was bigger and less biting.
 
Mayo – and Vince Wilfork – were the right guys at the right time to lead the Patriots after the 2001-2007 chapter of the New England dynasty ended and a leadership void emerged. The 2008 and 2009 seasons were bleak – at least for these parts – but the 2010 to 2016 reboot and the team’s defensive resurgence is at least in part, thanks to Mayo.
 
I got a Facebook message from a Patriots fan on Thursday. It read, “Was wondering how u felt about Mayo's career as a whole. My opinion: average to slightly above average player, who was a good guy in the locker room. Wasn't the playmaker the 10th pick in the draft should be.”

That feels like the prevailing opinion on Mayo’s career right now. He should have been better. I would counter that being the near-unanimous DROY (49 of 50 votes), an All-Pro after leading the NFL in tackles in 2010 and a two-time Pro Bowler is a helluva resume. But I also understand the sentiment that, compared to Bruschi, Vrabel or Harrison, there just weren’t the same kind of memorable, seminal moments authored by Mayo.
 
The thing about Mayo is that the value he added was almost all done behind closed doors. In meeting rooms where he sponged what Matt Patricia and Belichick told him and then passed it on to his teammates. At his home where he welcomed and mentored so many of the young Patriots like Dane Fletcher, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Donta Hightower. He and Wilfork made sure the notion of teammates as family was taken to another level under their watch.
 
And that’s hard for me to really testify to even though I spent more time with Mayo than any other player I’ve covered. For four years, he and I would get together every Tuesday during the season to tape a segment for Quick Slants. He didn’t need the money we gave him. Or the food. He didn’t look forward to leaving his wife, Chantel, and his children at home on the team’s only day off to spend 40 minutes doing TV. But every week, there he was, on time and upbeat, willing to interact with anyone trying to ambush him for an autograph or handshake, generally the guy in the best mood in the whole group. Why? Because he committed to it. Because, as a captain, he was expected to be a public face and a voice for the team.
 
But my anecdotes are irrelevant. It’s the reverence his teammates had for him that speak the most about what he brought. From Devin McCourty  to Vince Wilfork, current and former teammates saluted Mayo on Tuesday night.
 
Belichick hasn’t made a statement yet, but he articulated a number of times his high regard for Mayo. Whether it be saying Mayo was untradable, praising Mayo’s blue-collar approach by lauding him for buying a condo near the stadium and a pickup truck with his rookie paycheck or by stating in 2014 that the team “revolves around” Mayo.
 
“He’s really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player,” said Belichick. “Not that there aren’t other players that are instrumental in that. But I think that he really touches pretty much everybody. Not just the defensive players, but all the guys. Not just the older guys, but the younger guys. He’s got a great work ethic, great presence on the football field, and great personality. In a very good way, professional but he also has a good rapport with all the players and coaches. As respected as any player in the locker room. One of the best overall team leaders, players, kind of glue chemistry guy.”
 
As fate would have it, Mayo missed four games in 2011 and – in the Super Bowl that season – every bounce went the Giants way. In 2012, he was a Pro Bowler but in 2013, 2014 and 2015, he finished the year on IR. He has a ring from 2014 but never got the chance to be an on-field part of that win over Seattle. He’s a player that deserved to be out there, but as Clint Eastwood famously said in Unforgiven, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
 
With his salary cap number climbing higher, his on-field reps likely to shrink even more and the prospect of having to relocate if he wanted to keep playing, Mayo decided, “Enough.” At age 29.
 
Usually, you hear “29” and think, “My God, the kid just got here.” In Mayo’s case, he’s been a fixture and a leader so long, he seems closer to 39.
 
One last thing? Even if Tedy Bruschi was right back in 2009 – and he probably was – I’m sure that hearing Mayo defend his teammates let Bruschi know that he’d left his old team in very capable hands.
 
Bruschi would have been happy to hear it. Even if he was right.

AFC Playoff Picture: Patriots face uphill battle for home-field advantage

AFC Playoff Picture: Patriots face uphill battle for home-field advantage

The New England Patriots have won 70 percent of their games this season. They're still a very good football team. But their path to a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance looks much rockier than in years past.

After Sunday's 34-10 road loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots sit third in the AFC's overall standings behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers. If the season ended right now, they would need to play on Wild Card weekend, something they haven't done since 2009.

Of course, a lot can change over the final seven weeks of the NFL season. With the Patriots heading into their bye week, let's reset the AFC playoff picture, starting with a look at the overall standings. (An asterisk denotes a division leader.)

AFC Overall Standings

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)*

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1)*

3. New England Patriots (7-3)*

4. Houston Texans (6-3)*

5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-2)

6. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)

In the hunt: Tennessee Titans (5-4), Miami Dolphins (5-5), Baltimore Ravens (4-5), Indianapolis Colts (4-5)

AFC Wild-Card Round Matchups (as of Nov. 13)

No. 3 Patriots vs. No. 6 Bengals

No. 4 Texans vs. No. 5 Texans

So, how could the Patriots avoid a first-round matchup against the Bengals and possibly secure the AFC's top seed? Here's a look at the remaining schedules for Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and New England:

Kansas City: at Rams (in Mexico City), BYE, at Raiders, vs. Ravens, vs. Chargers, at Seahawks, vs. Raiders

Pittsburgh: at Jaguars, at Broncos, vs. Chargers, at Raiders, vs. Patriots, at Saints, vs. Bengals

Patriots: BYE, at Jets, vs. Vikings, at Dolphins, at Steelers, vs. Bills, vs. Jets

If the Patriots want the No. 1 seed, they'll likely need to win out -- and get some help. The Chiefs have just two games remaining against teams above .500 -- the 9-1 Rams and 7-2 Chargers -- and would need to drop two games or more to open the door for New England, which does hold the tie-breaker over Kansas City thanks to its Week 6 victory.

The Patriots have a decent shot at catching the Steelers for the No. 2 seed and at least getting a first-round bye. Pittsburgh has decently tough road matchups in Denver and Jacksonville, and a Week 15 NEw England victory over the Steelers could catapult them into the No. 2 spot.

This all assumes, of course, that the Patriots straighten out the issues that led to a 24-point loss to a middling Titans team. But as always in New England, the stakes are high: Bill Belichick's club is just 2-3 on the road this season and hasn't won an AFC Championship Game on the road since 2004.

Dwayne Allen suffers knee injury, will miss several weeks

Dwayne Allen suffers knee injury, will miss several weeks

This bye week couldn't come at a better time for the Patriots. 

Rob Gronkowski hasn't looked himself all season and has missed the last two games with ankle and back injuries. 

Marcus Cannon has been banged up all season. Trent Brown missed some snaps on Sunday because of an illness. Josh Gordon dislocated his finger against the Packers. Julian Edelman left Sunday's game with an ankle injury. 

The list goes on and on. Key contributors haven't been at full strength, and it's showed during games like the brutal Titan's loss on Sunday. 

Now we can add Dwayne Allen to the list. 

Allen suffered a knee injury on Sunday, and is projected to miss a few weeks, even with the upcoming bye. 

Allen doesn't contribute much in the passing game, but he's an excellent run blocker who has become important to the run game with Gronkowski clearly not at 100% this year. 

Behind Allen, the Patriots only have Jacob Hollister, who's missed most of the season with a nagging ankle injury. Even when he's healthy, he's much more of a receiver than a blocker.

Depending on how the team evaluates Gronkowski over the next week and a half, they may make a move to shore up their depth at the position. 

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