The last time we saw Jerod Mayo, the Patriots linebacker/co-captain was talking in the locker room after New England's 30-7 win over Minnesota this past Sunday. He was in good spirits and did not appear to have been injured in the game.
However, Mayo was not on the field for Wednesday's practice in Foxborough. It's possible, though, that his absence was not injury-related.
Meanwhile, another linebacker, Jamie Collins, was back in uniform after missing a portion of last Thursday, all of last Friday, and the Vikings game with a thigh injury.
The Patriots tinkered with their roster a bit this week, bringing back rookie defensive back Daxston Swanson, although it was unclear which player on either the practice squad or 53-man active roster was sacrificed to make room for him. We do know, however, that the team re-signed veteran LB Darius Fleming, placing him on the practice squad, along with second-year OL Caylin Hauptmann and rookie DL Kona Schwenke. Former practice squad players DL Cameron Henderson and RB Marcus Thigpen were the odd men out to accommodate those signings (New England already had one opening on the 10-man practice squad).
Also at practice Wednesday, we saw the return of the black jerseys. They are awarded after regular season victories to those players who best helped the team prepare for the opponent the previous week. Today, that honor went to TE Tim Wright, DL Joe Vellano, and three practice squaders: RB Jonas Gray, LB Ja'Gared Davis, and WR Josh Boyce.
The honors didn't end there. DE Chandler Jones was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Against Minnesota, Jones blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown. He also finished the game with eight total tackles and his fifth career two-sack game. This was Jones' first-ever AFC Defensive Player of the Week award. He won the Player of the Month version last November.
Yellow flags raising red flags
New England has been flagged for more than two dozen penalties in the first two weeks of the regular season – a startlingly high number.
This hasn't gone unnoticed among Patriots players. But what's the solution?
"Well, we practice a lot and we try to practice as disciplined as possible," QB Tom Brady told the media Wednesday. "Coach [Belichick] talked about that a lot. A fast way to get you beat is penalties or turnovers, and we haven't done a very good job the first week with turnovers or penalties, and last week it was penalties. We're going to need to do a much better job. I hope that we're much more disciplined out there in all phases – offense, defense, special teams – and that'll go a long way to help us."
"Don't do it – don't do it in practice, don't do it in games," right tackle Sebastian Vollmer stated flatly.
"Just don't cause any penalties in practice," echoed TE Rob Gronkowski. "That's what practice film's for. You see it on the film. If you cause a penalty, you just have to keep working hard to play within the rules."
New NFL drug policy
The league and its players' union have agreed on new measures for testing of performance-enhancing substances and the penalties for violation thereof. Of note, human growth hormone (HGH) testing is expected to begin by the end of this month and fully implemented this season.
Appeals for positive tests will now be heard by third-party arbitrators selected by both sides, and disciplinary actions have been modified: up to a six-game ban for the first violation, 10-game suspension for the second, and a third will result in banishment for at least two years.
"As players, we're getting a fair deal," asserted Patriots player representative and co-captain Matthew Slater. "I really believe that. And I feel as though the league is getting us to be transparent and to be players of integrity. We're going to be accountable for what we put in our bodies, as we should. I think it's fair for all parties. I think it's best for the shield [the NFL]. And at the end of the day, nobody's bigger than the league, and nobody's bigger than the integrity of the league."
The league and union are also nearing agreement on new language for the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Wednesday s with Gronk
He always draws a big media crowd whenever he approaches his locker, and almost always flashes a big grin when he sees them coming.
Today, the aforementioned Gronk touched not only on the penalty situation, but also the state of his health – specifically his right knee, which has limited him throughout the summer and early days of the regular season.
He was asked if he feels like he needs to take a big hit in order to get over any lingering psychological hurdles resulting from his reconstructive surgery.
"I'm over that stage. I'm ready to play football," he insisted. "Whatever contact comes, comes. I'm ready for anything."