Less than 12 hours after news broke that Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork had suffered an Achilles tear that will likely shelve him for the remainder of this season, his teammates spoke about his impact -- one that transcends what the box score says.
"Obviously Vince is a huge asset to our team not only on the field, but off the field," fellow defensive captain Jerod Mayo said. "And he's a great leader, he demands double teams in the run game and he also coordinates some of the rushes in the passing game as well."
For Mayo, losing Wilfork doesn't just mean having to play without the team's best defensive lineman and one that clears space for him and his fellow linebackers to run around, but it also affects him personally, as he and Wilfork are close friends.
"Obviously Vince has been a staple for a long time and he rarely goes down with an injury, so it's very shocking and surprising to see my friend go down like that," he said.
Guard Logan Mankins, another team captain that has worked opposite of Wilfork during innumerable practices, understands the value of what the burly nose tackle brings to the defense.
"Vince is a big-time challenge," he said. "Not only [is he] strong and powerful, but he's quick for a man his size and he's a smart player."
While Wilfork is often thought about in regards to his run defense contributions -- he's the foundation for the Patriots in that sense -- he is a productive member of the team's pass rush, too.
"He just pushes the pocket, he's always collapsing the inside and helps the edge rush," Mankins said of Wilfork as a rusher. "He just does so many things for us."
As was the case last night when Wilfork departed the game in the first quarter, the Patriots will fall back on their tried-and-true remedy when there's an injury.
"We always talk about next man up, and we have a lot of talented guys on our team," Mayo said. "I think Vince got hurt in the first quarter yesterday and guys stepped up and played well for him. We ended up getting the victory, which is always a good thing, but that's our mentality, next man up."
On Sunday night, it was a pair of rookies, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, who wound up earning more playing time than they've been accustomed to (it was Jones' Patriots debut), and they held their own, helping to limit Atlanta to just 58 yards rushing.
"Those guys, they play hard, they're always in the film room," Mayo said of Vellano and Jones. "The coaches always have them ready to go and I think football is all about preparation during the week, and those guys prepare well and came in the game and did some good things."