On days like this, you have to find ways to stay upbeat.
Following a tough-to-take loss on the road to the undefeated Denver Broncos, the Patriots can at least take solace in this fact: their defensive leader is back and seemingly ahead of schedule.
Second-year inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, out since the first quarter of the season opener because of a right knee injury (reportedly a sprained medial collateral ligament), returned to game action after having practiced with the team the past two weeks.
"Yeah, I thought Jerod … he's a good player. No doubt about it," Patriots head coach Bill Belichicksaid midday on Monday after watching the game film.
"He hadn't played in a few weeks, and like any player, the only way you get through that is to play. I think he made some plays. There are some other things I'm sure he'll do better next time around. But it was good to have him back out there, sure."
Mayo didn't start the game, but came in on New England's second defensive series. Belichick explained in his post-game press conference that, while Mayo was healthy enough to play, the coaching staff didn't necessarily feel that he was sufficiently conditioned to play the entire game. Mayo rotated in and out of the lineup throughout the game, finishing with six tackles (all solo) and a point-producing forced fumble.
On the third play of Denver's second possession, rookie running back Knowshon Morenotook a short pass from Broncos QB Kyle Orton and turned up field. Mayo lunged for Moreno to make the tackle, and in so doing, knocked the ball from Moreno's grasp. Patriots safety Brandon McGowancame up with the loose ball, and the New England offense converted the turnover into three points to take a 10-0 lead.
As you might expect, the NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year was less concerned about that play than he was the final score.
"It was just a tackle," Mayo told reporters in the capacious visitors locker room at Invesco Field at Mile High.
"I really wanted the 'W', so, I'm not feeling too good right now … the coaches had us prepared. We just didn't execute. [Denver] just made a lot of great plays and we didn't. The defense, we'll take this one on our shoulders."
However, Mayo added that he was "anxious to get back out there" and play with his teammates again, calling them "a great group of guys" who are like family to him. The feeling, it seems, is mutual.
"That's one of the leaders on our team," said nose tackle Vince Wilfork. "He's so young, and he was so eager to get back, and I was so happy for him from a big brother standpoint. Hopefully, he can stay healthy enough for us to win some ballgames."
"Guys stepped up for us while he was gone, but this builds depth. Later on down the road, we'll be a better team," insisted cornerbackLeigh Bodden.
During Mayo's absence, fellow second-year 'backer Gary Guytonassumed his good friend's position and responsibilities on the field, including wearing the helmet equipped with the coach-to-player communications device, indicated by a green dot on his helmet. With Mayo still working his way back into the starting lineup and full-time game action, Guyton continued wearing the green dot against Denver.
"I just have to take it one week at a time and try to get better for next week," Mayo observed.
Vollmer fills in for Light
While Mayo's return was encouraging, the loss of starting left tackle Matt Lightwas equally discouraging. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Light was pass-blocking when his teammate, center Dan Koppen, was knocked to the ground by a Broncos defender. Koppen rolled into the back of Light's legs, which twisted Light's right knee awkwardly.
Light fell to the ground, where he remained for the next several minutes. Two Patriots medical staffers helped support Light as he gingerly hobbled off the field.
In his place, New England called on 6-8 rookie Sebastian Vollmer.
"I thought he was alright," Belichick replied when asked about Vollmer's performance in relief.
After the game, Light was seen walking around the locker room with a large brace on his right knee. Belichick offered no update on Light's condition either immediately following the game or on Monday.
The week ahead
The Pats are back home this week to host the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium this Sunday. This afternoon, they had their standard team meeting and review of the game film, plus treatment for those who needed it. Tuesday is their usual day off before returning to the practice field Wednesday.