A Patriots defense that was getting adjusted to playing without one of its captains has suddenly lost the second one, also to a season-ending injury.
According to a league source, linebacker Jerod Mayo tore a pectoral muscle during Sunday’s 30-27 home win over the Saints, and had surgery Tuesday. The story was first reported by Yahoo, which said Mayo could be out for the rest of the season; pectoral muscle tears typically are season-ending. The source told the Globe that Mayo’s season is over.
He joins defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, whose season ended Sept. 29 when he tore an Achilles’ tendon. Wilfork and Mayo have combined for seven trips to the Pro Bowl, and have formed a very successful combination in the middle of defense. Both have been captains the past four seasons; Wilfork’s tenure as captain dates to 2008. Theirs will be a difficult productive void to fill, based on what they do. But the leadership they’ve brought to the defense through the years might be even tougher to replace.
Mayo left late in the fourth quarter, after he was knocked to the ground while attempting to bring down Saints running back Darren Sproles, who was trying to catch a second-down pass. Mayo made contact with Sproles from the backside, at about the same time Patriots safety Steve Gregory was hitting Sproles from the front. Mayo’s right arm was wrapped behind Sproles when Gregory came in from the other direction; Sproles was leveled by Gregory and didn’t catch the pass. Both Sproles and Mayo were injured on the play, which came with 3:41 left in the game. After initially getting to his knees, Mayo immediately reached for his upper right chest area, and after a few minutes was escorted to the bench by the medical staff.
Wilfork’s loss was devastating, but Mayo’s might be just as painful, if not more. No player in the NFL has recorded more tackles since the start of the 2010 season than Mayo, who has led the Patriots in tackles all five seasons he’s been with the team. The Patriots had Mayo for 139 tackles in 2008 (after he was the 10th overall pick in the NFL draft), 114 in ’09, 193 in ’10, 103 in ’11, and 184 last season.
According to team statistics, Mayo had 66 tackles through six games this year, including 1½ sacks and a fumble recovery.
When healthy — and that’s been most of the time, since he’s missed just five games in his five-plus seasons — Mayo has been a workhorse. He’s been on the field for all but 15 of the 414 snaps this season, and calls the defensive signals in the huddle.
Mayo is the latest key contributor to miss significant playing time this season for the Patriots, who are off to a 5-1 start, lead the AFC East, and play the Jets on the road this Sunday. In addition to Wilfork, tight end Rob Gronkowski has yet to see the field as he recovers from offseason forearm and back surgeries, and receiver Danny Amendola missed three games with a groin injury. Amendola left Sunday’s game with a head injury and did not return after taking helmet-to-helmet contact from defensive back Rafael Bush in the third quarter.
The injury news on the defense could get worse. Cornerback Aqib Talib left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with what the team said was a hip injury; if it’s serious enough that Talib will miss time, it would leave the Patriots without their best players in all three layers of defense: line, linebacker, and secondary.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.