FOXBOROUGH — The “next man up” philosophy of the New England Patriots is getting seriously tested.
On defense, star linebacker Jerod Mayo went on season-ending injured reserve yesterday, joining star tackle Vince Wilfork on the list. On Sunday, their best defensive back, Aqib Talib, could be sidelined after hurting his hip. And just when starting tackle Tommy Kelly returns from a knee injury is unknown.
Then there’s the offense.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola and guard Dan Connolly suffered concussions last Sunday. Tight end Rob Gronkowski hasn’t played all season.
Gronkowski was the only one of those seven to practice yesterday, and he was limited.
But the Patriots lead the AFC East by two games.
“A lot of teams face challenges. It’s just really how you deal with them,” Tom Brady said yesterday. “We’ve lost some guys, dealt with some issues, like every other team. We’re handling them OK. We’re 5-1. It’s a decent start.”
But now four of the Patriots’ best players are injured on a defense that has allowed the fourth fewest points in the NFL.
Dane Fletcher, who has started five games since joining the Patriots in 2010, could start at outside linebacker for Mayo on Sunday against the New York Jets (3-3).
“Our defense knows what we have to do,” Fletcher said. “It’s always next man up. It’s kind of that philosophy around here and whoever it may be, it’s time for them to fill those shoes.”
Those shoes are pretty big.
Mayo, a two-time Pro Bowl standout, has the most tackles in the NFL since 2010 and calls the defensive signals.
Wilfork is a five-time Pro Bowler who has anchored the defensive line since 2005.
They’re also leaders, the only two defensive co-captains on the team.
“I think of it as Mayo and Vince are still our captains,” said safety Devin McCourty, a co-captain the past two seasons.