FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The Patriots' defense took another serious hit yesterday, when the team announced linebacker Jerod Mayo would be put on season-ending injured reserve after surgery Tuesday to repair a torn pectoral muscle.
Mayo is the second defensive star the Pats have lost for the season. Their other defensive captain, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, tore an Achilles tendon Sept. 29.
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"We take pride in everybody on our defense being able to step up when a guy goes down,'' safety Steve Gregory said. "We've had plenty of that this year already, so the next guy has to be ready to go in and continue performing at a high level.''
Mayo was on his way to a fifth season of 100-plus tackles, with a team-best 55 in six games. He has been on the field for a team-high 88 percent of the Pats' defensive snaps in six seasons.
In his absence, several players are likely to have heightened responsibilities. After Mayo got hurt Sunday, second-year linebacker Dont'a Hightower called the plays for the defense. The unit gave the Patriots' offense a chance to pull out a last-second, 30-27 win over the Saints.
"I'm looking forward to it,'' Hightower said of calling the signals Sunday against the Jets. "I definitely knew if something ever happened that I would have to step up and do it. I'm not nervous about it. It's something that I've done before, maybe not in the NFL, but I've done it before.''
It appears there are two candidates to slide into Mayo's spot -- rookie Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher. Collins, a 6-3, 250-pounder, has played all six games and recovered a fumble against the Saints. The 6-2, 245-pound Fletcher started five games for the Pats in 2011 before a torn ACL sidelined him last year. He has spent most of this season on special teams.
"I think time will tell who fills [Mayo's] role,'' Fletcher said. "It's not just going to be one specific person because you can't do that with Mayo. It's got to be the whole team that steps up.
"I feel comfortable at linebacker. If I'm the guy that has to step up, so be it.''