FOXBOROUGH -- Now that Jerod Mayo has joined Vince Wilfork on season-ending injured reserve, questions about how good the Patriots will be defensively -- and who will be playing -- figure to dominate pregame chatter as they get set to face the Jets Sunday.
Those football teams that use the next-man-up approach (the Patriots being one) are prepared for adversity, even though they'd rather not face it. But when it hits, be ready to hit back.
"Everywhere outside this locker room, everyone’s going to be talking about our loss, but I think we’ve got some guys in here that are excited about their opportunity," said safety Devin McCourty. "I think the good thing this year is we have guys that prepare hard and work hard as if they were starting, and now they get that opportunity."
Mayo was lost to a torn pectoral muscle. Combined with Wilfork, who tore an Achilles' tendon, the Patriots' two defensive captains won't be in uniform again until 2014.
Their absence on Sundays will definitely be felt. But their contributions on the other six days, while not visible to anyone outside the locker room, will be just as difficult to duplicate. McCourty said it will take a group effort.
"We’ve all got to step up and kind of be group captains now," said McCourty, who had been a captain the previous two seasons. "I think of it as Mayo and Vince are still our captains.
"When guys get hurt and they can’t be around, guys have to step up. I’ve been appointed one of those guys to step up, but it’s no different, guys on defense have to step up, guys like Steve Gregory, that’s played a lot of football here already; [Brandon] Spikes, a guy that’s a fourth-year player."