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Jerod Mayo: No worries about ‘rookie wall’ with this group of first-year players

FOXBORO — As a guy who played a lot of football in his first year in the NFL, linebacker Jerod Mayo [1] knows all about the idea of the rookie wall.

Mayo played 881 snaps as a rookie in 2008 (according to Pro Football Focus), the highest total on a defense filled with veterans like Richard Seymour [2], Mike Vrabel [3], Rodney Harrison [4] and Tedy Bruschi [5]. He ended up winning the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

So when you ask him about the idea of fighting through a rookie wall — the idea that first-year players struggle with the longer NFL season — you can understand why he might be dismissive of the entire idea.

‘€œI think these guys know,’€ Mayo said of New England’€™s rookie class. ‘€œThese guys have old souls — like Chandler [Jones], he looks like an old man. He does a lot of ice tubs and things like that. Dont’€™a [Hightower], he’€™s doing well. We don’€™t really believe in the rookie wall that everyone talks about. We just talk about taking it one day at a time, and I think if you look at it that way and not try to look ahead at the schedule, you’€™ll be OK.’€

Jones and Hightower remain integral parts of a Patriots’€™ defense [6] that has started to take steps ‘€œin the right direction,’€ according to the veteran linebacker.

‘€œBut at the same time, we didn’€™t start the game like we wanted to. We haven’€™t put together four quarters in a game. We’€™re still striving to do that. [There’€™s] a lot of work to do,’€ Mayo said before practice on Tuesday. ‘€œWe liked the way we finished the game, as well as the fact that we had two defensive touchdowns. That’€™s always good. Something to build on.

‘€œObviously, we’€™re a work in progress. We’€™re a work in progress. We have to take in one game at a time, day at a time. Like I said earlier, the consistency has to be there. We have to start games strong and finish strong.’€

The Patriots will hit the road for a Thanksgiving night with the Jets. It’€™ll be the second time around for New England and New York this year — the Patriots eked out a dramatic 29-26 overtime win against the Jets on Oct. 21. It’€™s a dual challenge for New England, which not only faces a road test against a divisional rival, it’€™ll also come on a short week.

‘€œIt was a tough game,’€ said Mayo when asked about the first game against the Jets. ‘€œIt came down to last couple of minutes — they’€™re a tough team. They always play us tough. A division team. They know us and we know them. It’€™ll be a tough battle.’€

Cramming a week’€™s worth of work into four days is also a test, even against a familiar foe like Rex Ryan [7] and New York.

‘€œThere’€™s a lot of film study in a short time. After that game we just played, it was really a Wednesday in our world. It’€™s tough, but at the same time, they’€™re in the same predicament we’€™re in,’€ he said. ‘€œ[Familiarity] does help. But teams change. Teams change over a couple of weeks as far as scheme is concerned, so you have to do a lot of film study and a lot of studying up on things that they’€™re doing.

‘€œScheme wise, they’€™re doing different things. They’€™re healthier than the last time we played them. They have all their weapons. I don’€™t think they have any injuries, to be honest with you. They’€™re doing a lot of things well.’€

With a win, the Patriots have an opportunity to put a hammerlock on the division — a victory would give them an 8-3 record and at least a three-game lead with five games to play.

‘€œObviously, you look at this as a chance to separate yourself from the rest of the pack,’€ Mayo said. ‘€œWe handled the Bills, and now, this is a big game for us to kind of distance ourselves from the rest of the pack.’€