FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Lorenzo Mauldin found a quiet place in the Jets' locker room before Sunday's game against the Eagles and said a prayer. He asked God to let him forget.
"My thought process was not to think about what had happened while I'm on the field," the Jets rookie linebacker said Monday. "I prayed to God basically asking him to help me out when it comes to being out there on the field. I actually asked Him to help me forget."
Two weeks earlier, Mauldin lost consciousness when he was involved in a pileup after a sack of Johnny Manziel in the fourth quarter of the Jets' season-opening 31-10 win over the Browns. Mauldin got up after the play but staggered forward a few steps and crumpled to the turf. He lay motionless for several minutes before being placed on a backboard and removed from the field on a cart. Stunned teammates and fans feared the worst.
"I was really scared," wide receiver Brandon Marshall said after the game. "I saw him get up and try to take a couple of steps and he just collapsed right in front of me. It was scary."
As it turned out, Mauldin's injuries weren't as severe as initially thought. He was diagnosed with a concussion, although he didn't fully regain consciousness until the following morning.
Still, the emotions were raw and conflicted before he returned to play Sunday. Mauldin desperately wanted to return to the field but didn't want to play scared. Even though he still doesn't recall what happened on the play, he didn't want to hold back to avoid a similar injury.
In a game this violent, you cannot afford to lose your edge. It's almost as if you live in denial about the possibility of getting hurt. All players do it, and Mauldin is no exception. But it was much more of a challenge this time because of what had happened. "I had to not think about it and play like I didn't have the concussion," said Mauldin, who was cleared by Jets doctors and an independent neurologist involved in the NFL's concussion protocol. "I just wanted to have my mind on winning the game."
The Jets didn't win, falling to the Eagles, 24-17, for their first defeat of the season. Mauldin was in on only a handful of special-teams plays and less than a half-dozen plays on defense. But make no mistake: There was a victory in this game for the 22-year-old. He defeated the inevitable anxiety that went along with playing for the first time since his injury.
"Your thought process is to make a play to help your team out," Mauldin said. "Your adrenaline is going, so during the game, you're not even worried about what happened two weeks before. The only thing you're worried about is going out there and actually helping the team out and doing what you can."
Jets coach Todd Bowles had seen a former college teammate, Anthony Young, forced to retire from the NFL when he suffered a similar hit that caused a neck injury. So he was delighted that Mauldin quickly regained his health and did not have a neck problem. But he did feel the need to speak with Mauldin during the run-up to the game.
"We talked on Friday and he was feeling good," said Bowles, who indicated Mauldin will play a more prominent role Sunday against the Dolphins in London. "I think it was . He wanted to go out there earlier than that. He wasn't worried about it. We were. We were just trying to be a little cautious."Mauldin returned to the field with a greater sense of gratitude, not just about being able to play but to know that so many cared so much about him. When he was hurt, social media was filled with get-well messages and prayers.
"They said I was coming in and out during the night, but I can't remember any of that stuff," he said. "They said I opened my eyes a couple of times but I just wasn't responsive. When I finally had the energy, my girlfriend was right there. I heard a lot of people. I heard Brandon Marshall, Dave Szott, and a couple of the doctors, and of course my girlfriend was talking to me in my ear."
He added, "I didn't know what was going on, and after I came to the next morning, my phone was blowing up, social media was blowing up, and people were praying for me and hoping I got well and sending their best wishes," Mauldin said. "I felt love."
This wasn't the first time Mauldin lost consciousness. He was on the wrong end of a hit-and-run accident while riding a moped at Louisville shortly before the start of the 2013 season.
"I felt the love from the city of Louisville, too," he said.
And it's certainly not the first time Mauldin has had adversity in his life. As a child growing up in Atlanta, he lived in at least a dozen foster homes with his brother. Now it is back to what he loves to do most. That's chasing quarterbacks and running backs -- and winning football games.
"I hope to satisfy the fans and everybody here in the city that supports the Jets," he said. "I just want to give them something to watch on Sundays."
Thank goodness he still has the chance.