Jerod Mayo a steady force for Patriots

INDIANAPOLIS — Jerod Mayo is part drill sergeant, part linebacker. And that combination has equaled one of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s most reliable players.

"He sets the pace," Belichick said of Mayo this week. "He will be the first one there and the last one to leave. He will know the most about all of our calls and the adjustments on defense, as Tom [Brady] does on offense. The game runs through him."

Mayo, mentally and physically, has been the steady force of New England's defense. He recorded 95 tackles, two interceptions and a sack for the Patriots this season in 14 games. Mayo also added 17 tackles in two playoff games.

But most importantly, Mayo has provided much-needed leadership and brought order to New England's defense.

Growing up in a military household has helped Mayo on the football field. His grandfather was a chief master sergeant in the Air Force and taught Mayo a lot about work ethic and discipline at an early age.

"My grandfather used to wake us up at 6 o'clock in the morning while all my friends were sleeping and we used to go paint some houses," Mayo recalled. "He always wanted to keep us out of trouble. He bought me a weight set when I was in fifth grade."

Mayo's upbringing has made him into one of the hardest-working players on the team. In just four seasons, the former first-round pick has taken over New England's leadership role on defense.

This will be Mayo's first Super Bowl. He was drafted in the first round in 2008, one season after New England was upset by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Mayo had the benefit of learning under veterans Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour for a short time before they retired (Bruschi, Harrison) or were traded (Seymour). Now, the defense is primarily led by Mayo and veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.

Mayo is doing something right. The Patriots gave him a five-year, $48.5 million extension ($25 million guaranteed) during the season while Mayo still had one year left on his rookie contract. It says a lot when Belichick wants you in his defense for the long term.

Belichick could not say enough good things about Mayo this week.

"He's got a great unselfishness about him," Belichick said. "It's never about him. It's about what’s best for the team. I think that’s really what makes him so well-respected in our locker room and our football team is how committed he is to our team."

There have been plenty of criticisms about Mayo and the Patriots' defense this season — and most of it was deserved. The group was ranked 31st in the NFL, and it is the one unit no one is talking about during Super Bowl week.

But players like Wilfork, Mayo and fellow linebackers Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes have all taken their games to another notch in the postseason. The Patriots have allowed just 15 points per game against the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens.

It appears New England's defense has finally figured things out, albeit very late in the season. But the group deserves a lot of credit for staying together and never pointing fingers in rough times.

Can Mayo and the Patriots stop Eli Manning and the various weapons the Giants have on offense? Most people don't think New England's defense can give the Giants' offense many problems.

But the Patriots' defense is used to being underestimated all season. Sunday will be one final opportunity for Mayo and New England to prove the critics wrong against New York's high-powered offense in Super Bowl XLVI.

"You can’t really listen to all the outsiders," Mayo explained of the defense's mindset. "You can’t listen to the media, you can’t listen to your family and you can’t listen to your friends. You just have to listen to these coaches. They know what they’re doing. They’ve won championships and hopefully we can get another one."