FOXBOROUGH - Brandon Spikes has been elusive in his Patriots career - on the field, in the locker room, as a contributor to a defense that is sorely in need of some consistency and help. He showed up yesterday, though, perhaps the prelude to a playoff run in which he might just make up for his spotty appearances, the result of multiple injuries and a suspension at the end of his rookie year.
He indicated as much yesterday on his Twitter feed - an outlet that has occasionally come into question for the second-year linebacker - saying, “Finally talked to the media today.’’
Next step? Making his mark in the postseason, after two years in which he has yet to play up to his own expectations.
“I feel like I was just OK,’’ Spikes said of his first two years in the NFL. “Me, personally, I always want to just ‘ball out’ - that’s the word I use for it, just ‘balling.’ Obviously, this is the NFL and there’s going to be some ups and downs, but I just feel like I haven’t played my best game yet. I’m just striving to do that.’’
Why hasn’t he been able to put it all together?
“I don’t know,’’ Spikes said. “That’s a good question.
“When I get the opportunity, they call my name, I’m going in the game and I feel like I’m going to make plays. I always look at the game, since I was 4 years old, the same way - I just feel like I haven’t played my best game yet.’’
Spikes played in only eight games this season, the result of a sprained medial collateral ligament suffered Nov. 6 against the Giants. He missed the next seven, returning to the field against Buffalo, the final game of the season.
“It was tough,’’ Spikes said. “It was my first time really ever, my first injury ever in my life, and it was totally different. But with my teammates’ help, guys just motivating me, always on my back just trying to get me back out there, it kind of made it easier.
“It hurt me just to see them playing every Sunday and I couldn’t be out there.’’
It was frustrating for him, of course, especially after he missed time in the preseason because of an ankle issue. He hadn’t ended his rookie season the way he wanted, hadn’t started his second year the way he wanted, wasn’t finishing the 2011 season the way he wanted. And, still, he said, “I just think everything happens for a reason.’’
He’s back now, in time for the postseason, though he will have to integrate himself into a defense that has struggled with missing personnel all season. Safety Patrick Chung and Spikes (among others) have sat out significant portions of the second half.
“Whenever a player comes back in, there’s always an adjustment period,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “That’s true of every player. I don’t think it’s any different for him than it would be for anybody else.
“He has two years of experience. He’s a physical inside linebacker that’s been a productive guy for us. The more players we have that can contribute, the better. He’s one of them.’’
As fellow linebacker Jerod Mayo pointed out, Spikes has been in meetings. He has been with the team. He “hasn’t missed a beat.’’
The question is whether he can demonstrate that on the field in the playoffs.
Spikes seems confident that, despite the ups and downs his career has taken, he can make it all work. He believes he has returned to health, can get back on the field, can contribute, can make his play what he wants it to be.
“I think the sky’s the limit,’’ Spikes said. “I’m just getting started. I just feel like there’s a lot of things I can do. I’m young. I’m still learning the game. I’m trying to be a professional.
“It’s a lot different from when I was in college and I could freelance and still make plays. Here, you’ve got to take a professional approach and be accountable and be there for the team.
“That’s what I’m trying to do now, basically. I went through a lot of stuff. But everything happens for a reason. It’s just made me a better man and a better player.’’
It felt good to be back on the field, he said. Good to be running around. Good to be making plays. Good to not be on the sideline watching his teammates play game after game without him.
A few other teammates - including tight end Aaron Hernandez and Mayo - also suffered MCL injuries this season, but they didn’t miss nearly as much time as Spikes. Asked about that, Spikes said, “Everybody’s different. Me, it was my first injury, so I was just doing everything I could to get back.
“I knew I was going to be ready for the playoffs. I was just going to make sure that I wouldn’t go out and do something to not be able to help this team out there when it really counts.’’
That’s now. It’s time for Spikes.
“Brandon brings that mentality, just being a physical player,’’ Mayo said. “He’s always a downhill linebacker. It’s always good to have him out there.
“But at the same time, guys like Dane [Fletcher] and Gary [Guyton], those guys have done an excellent job with that next-man-up mentality. But it’s always good to get Spikes back out there.’’
During this bye week, Spikes will continue to make sure that his knee is improving, continue to work out, catch a little football. He’ll ready himself, perhaps for that first truly great game as a member of the Patriots.
“It’ll give me time to get in the books and go back and look at games I’ve missed, just try to critique my game and make sure I’m on top of it next time,’’ said Spikes, who will be wearing a knee brace in the upcoming game.
He knows he’s already dealt with quite a bit in his first two seasons, has had to get through injuries and questions and controversy. He knows that won’t be all.
“There’s going to be more things,’’ Spikes said. “I was just raised when something happens, you get knocked down, you get up, just keep going. Can’t look back.’’