Week six is in the books and it’s already been a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows for the New England Patriots.
A tumultuous start in Miami, a constant-shuffling offensive line, a blowout loss in Kansas City and rumors of Tom Brady’s demise. The list could go on and on. Now the team must move on without two of their key playmakers on both sides of the ball.
A bittersweet victory
The 37-22 victory in Buffalo was yet another boost in a team that is somehow searching for its identity almost halfway through the season. But it came with a huge price, as both Stevan Ridley and Jerod Mayo suffered season-ending injuries. Which is the bigger loss?
Ridley, although plagued with fumbling problems throughout his career, is a lightning-fast, bruising runner. While Mayo, a defensive captain, is the heart and soul of the unit, reading coverages and calling the plays on the field.
Who will step up?
Coach Belichick and the Patriots have always subscribed to the “next man up” mentality. The team stared adversity in the face last season with the losses of Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski, Tommy Kelly, Sebastian Vollmer and yes, Jerod Mayo. Still, they overcame and made it to the AFC Championship game.
Ridley is really the only true feature-back on the roster with his ability to break between the tackles and punish opponents. Shane Vereen and rookie James White are more third-down, pass-catching type backs. Brandon Bolden is an option, but is unproven with his lack of playing time. Unless they add a veteran running back (Benjarvus Green-Ellis anyone?), look for the Pats to employ the dreaded “running back by committee” option.
Replacing Mayo, on the other hand, won’t be easy, but it seems as though the team has more options on the defensive side of the ball. Third-year player Dont’a Hightower is the obvious choice to assume Mayo’s play-calling duties, as he did last season when Mayo went down. Look for veteran Jamie Collins and undrafted rookie Deontae Skinner to step up and contribute, as well.
Newly acquired cornerback Brandon Browner has yet to take the field. If the Patriots secondary comes into shape as they have hoped, Browner, along with Darrelle Revis, could ease the pressure facing the front seven.
Looking towards the future
Ridley is set to become a free agent after the 2014 season. But, coming off ACL and MCL injuries will certainly lessen his value on the open market. The Patriots could end up re-signing Ridley to a value-laden, short-term deal, assuming he rebounds from his injury.
Mayo’s cap number next season is a whopping $10 million. If we’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that the Patriots don’t overpay for players and are not afraid to let talent walk right out the front door. With Mayo missing the last 10 games of the 2013 season, along with this latest injury, he will no doubt be labeled as “injury prone.” If he’s not willing to re-structure his contract, this could be the last we’ve seen of Mayo in a Patriots uniform.
Every year, Injuries affect every team in the NFL in one form or another. The Colts went 2-14 without Peyton Manning. The Patriots, on the other hand, finished 11-5 in 2008 when Tom Brady went down in week one.
Great teams overcome adversity. Mediocre teams are consumed by it. The Patriots are coming off a short week and face the Jets Thursday night. Which team will they be?