FOXBORO — Yesterday, Patriots fans finally saw the Jerod Mayo everyone has been waiting for.
The 2010 All-Pro linebacker turned in possibly the two greatest plays of his NFL career — a tremendous fourth-down goal-line stop and game-changing forced fumble — in the Patriots' 35-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
"Mayo had a great game," said fellow linebacker Rob Ninkovich. "That stop at the goal line was huge. That is why he is the leader of our defense. He can make plays like that."
Sure, in his three-year (and one-game) tenure in New England, he had made 287 tackles and made a Pro Bowl. But there were no truly defining moment in his NFL career.
That is, until yesterday ... when there were two.
"He made some huge plays," said safety Sergio Brown. "That is his job to control the defense and come up with the big play. We don't expect any less."
Signature play No. 1 came midway through the second quarter. With the Patriots ahead 10-7, San Diego faced a fourth-and-goal from the New England 1-yard line.
"We pretty much knew that (the right) was their run side," said Mayo. "They sent in their blocking tight end (Randy McMichael) so we knew the run was going there."
The Chargers sent 243-pound Mike Tolbert off tackle right. But Mayo was able to hurdle a defender and stop Tolbert in his tracks for a turnover on downs.
"I don't even think I was hit by an offensive lineman," said Mayo. "(Tolbert) is a stocky guy and a tough runner so I just tried to hit him low."
That proved to be a game-changing play, with the Patriots responding with a 99-yard touchdown drive.
"That was huge because the momentum could have shifted in their favor with a touchdown," said defensive lineman Myron Pryor. "We knew we had to stop him."