PITTSBURGH -- Linebacker Jerod Mayo, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, running back Kevin Faulk and defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick were among the New England Patriots players who returned to action in a 25-17 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday after extended absences.
For Faulk (torn ACL) and Deaderick (shoulder), it was the first action of the season, as both were promoted to the active roster from the physically unable to perform list this week. Faulk figured to cut into Danny Woodhead's playing time, and his presence also led to Shane Vereen's deactivation, while Deaderick offered depth up front.
Mayo, who has been out since spraining his MCL against Oakland on Oct. 2, returned, but in a reduced role.
Vollmer was active for the first time since the second week against the Chargers. It could be a rotation-type situation with rookie Nate Solder at right tackle. With Vollmer active, it made Vollmer/Solder the third tackle, and led to Donald Thomas' deactivation. Ryan Wendell was the top backup at center/guard.
Second-year defensive end Jermaine Cunningham was a healthy scratch. He's hardly been playing on defense at right defensive end, with Andre Carter taking those reps. He played about 50 percent of the snaps last season, but has regressed this year. Cunningham has been playing on the punt return unit, so that role will be filled elsewhere.
Receiver Julian Edelman, who had been sidelined with an ankle injury but wasn't on the injury report this week, was also a healthy scratch. Rookie running back Stevan Ridley had been taking kickoff returns in his place, while Wes Welker had been handling punt returns. It's possible Faulk could get into the punt return mix.
Meanwhile, Steelers receiver Hines Ward was downgraded from questionable to out for Sunday's game.
Ward was carted off the field during the third quarter of last Sunday's 32-20 victory at Arizona with a sprained ankle.
He had three catches for 21 yards in the game. Ward had ranked second on the Steelers with 23 catches for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
Veteran inside linebacker James Farrior was also ruled out by the Steelers after being limited in practice last week.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and ESPN.com's James Walker was used in this report.