FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots will be without their leading tackler and leading rusher for the remainder of the season, as the injuries suffered by Jerod Mayo and Stevan Ridley on Sunday are, as initially believed, significant.
According to league sources, Ridley tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee when he was hit by Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore on a carry in the third quarter.
Ridley was on all fours on the turf after the hit, pounding the ground as he likely realized the severity of what had happened to him, and was emotional on the Patriots’ bench.
Mayo’s right knee buckled under him as he tackled Boobie Dixon in the second quarter, and players from both the Patriots and Bills circled around him before the cart was brought out and he was taken off the field.
A league source said Mayo was out for the season but did not have specifics.
The injuries put a damper on the Patriots' 37-22 victory, which gave them sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
Oddly, in his postgame comments, coach Bill Belichick said the win was “a little bittersweet” because of losing Mayo, but he made no mention of Ridley’s injury.
Mayo was also injured in the sixth game of last season, suffering a torn pectoral that ended his year.
Neither player will be easy for the Patriots to replace.
“We’re just going to have to get contributions from other guys,” Belichick said of replacing Mayo, who led New England in tackles from 2008-12 and was on pace to do so again last year and this year. “Some at the linebacker position and some at other positions as well. We’ll see how it comes together.
“We have to be ready to move on without him. So we’ll have to look to multiple groups, multiple players to do some of the things that he did. There’s no one guy who is going to, on this team, do what Jerod did. We’re lucky to have him, let alone another guy that can do all that too.”
Mayo, who had 52 tackles, one sack, and a fumble recovery in five-plus games, was the signal-caller for the defense, and also was known for tipping teammates off to certain things on the field, sometimes leading to big plays for others.
Dont’a Hightower served as primary signal-caller last year when Mayo was injured, though he has missed the last two games with his own knee injury. It appeared that he was a game-time decision Sunday, working out in front of members of the medical staff a couple of hours before the game, before he was ultimately scratched.
Though this Thursday’s game against the Jets makes for a short turnaround, the Patriots have to be hoping that Hightower will be ready to go. Second-year linebacker Jamie Collins does have some experience calling plays. The only other players New England has at the position are rookie Deontae Skinner, Ja’Gared Davis, and Chris White, though the latter two are considered primarily special teams players. The Patriots also have Darius Fleming on the practice squad.
Ridley had two 100-yard games this season, though he gained just 23 yards on 10 carries against the Bills, who entered the game as the second-best run defense in the league.
He finishes the season with 94 carries for 340 yards, two touchdowns, and perhaps most importantly, zero fumbles after losing four last season, an issue that produced a rather public benching for a late-season game against Houston.
A third-round draft pick in 2011, Ridley is in the final year of his rookie contract. That status makes his NFL future quite murky, though Ridley is not far removed from his stellar 2012 campaign, when he had 1,263 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and a dozen touchdowns.
While the Patriots do have Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, and rookie James White on the 53-man roster, none runs the ball quite the same way Ridley does. Ridley was the offense’s best pure runner; Vereen and White are more change-of-pace backs, capable of catching passes out of the backfield as well.
Bolden is the closest to Ridley, but while he’s been a star on special teams this season, he has gotten the ball just 15 times, averaging 1.7 yards per carry.
On Monday morning, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said of the running back group, “If [Ridley] is going to be out, then we’re going to need the rest of our guys to play more snaps and take on a bigger role. We have confidence in all our guys.
“This is the norm for the National Football League, and our job is to have the guys that are here ready to go, and they’ll certainly work hard to do that.”
One of those players will have to step up, or the Patriots may have to bring in someone (BenJarvus Green-Ellis is available), because if the run game is lacking, defenses will key on the passing game, just as it has started to ramp up.