FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ bye week came at a good time for right guard Shaq Mason.
Following a weekend of rest and relaxation, Mason, who sat out the Patriots’ last two games with a calf injury, said Monday he feels healthy enough to return to action.
“I’m ready whenever they let me,” Mason said, adding he “definitely” plans to practice this week ahead of Sunday’s matchup with the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Mason suffered his injury during New England’s Week 8 win over the Buffalo Bills. With Ted Karras filling in at right guard, the Patriots split the two games he missed, beating the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium before losing to the Tennessee Titans on the road.
The injury snapped a streak of 57 consecutive games played and 45 straight starts for Mason, who’d started every game since Week 1 of the 2016 season.
“It’s tough,” said Mason, who practiced in a limited capacity before the Titans game. “As a football player and a competitor, you want to be out there with your guys. So that’s been tough. But we had the bye, and we’ve got New York, so we’re ready to get back on track.”
Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski also sat out the last two games (and three of the last four) as he nursed ankle and back injuries. He reportedly is expected to play against the Jets.
“(The bye) was very helpful,” Mason said. “Not just for me — for the rest of the team. Guys are sore. It’s been a long season. It’s a good week to rest up.”
Some additional notes and nuggets from Monday’s media availability at Gillette Stadium:
— Patriots coach Bill Belichick often says the NFL season doesn’t truly begin until after Thanksgiving. Well, Thanksgiving is this Thursday.
Sunday’s Jets tilt will kick off a pivotal home stretch for the 7-3 Patriots, who currently sit behind the 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs and 7-2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC standings.
“I think everyone’s intensity level goes up,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “There’s a great sense of urgency for all the teams in the league for a variety of reasons. Certainly, we’ve been fortunate to be in good position heading into Thanksgiving, and we feel like we still have a lot to play for moving forward. Our focus, our intensity, everything needs to be dialed up a couple notches and every game is going to count that much more in the grand scheme of the season.”
Added Mason: “You just know it’s time to put up or shut up. It’s that time of year, and things are winding down, so you’ve got to give that extra push.”
— The Jets are riding a four-game losing streak and have been outscored 115-43 over those last four games. On paper, this should be a relatively easy win for the Patriots, regardless of whether rookie Sam Darnold or veteran Josh McCown starts at quarterback for New York.
Comfortable victories in East Rutherford, N.J., don’t come often for the Patriots, though. They’ve lost twice in their last five road games against the Jets, and New England’s three wins during that span have come by one point, five points and seven points.
“I think that’s kind of the story with a lot of teams when they come play us, but the Jets specifically, they’re a physical team,” wide receiver Chris Hogan said. “Going to MetLife is always a tough environment to go and play there. … I think everyone is pretty excited coming off the bye, recharged and ready to get to work.”
In their trip to MetLife last season, the Patriots battled back from a 14-0 deficit and benefited from a questionable fumble call on Austin Seferian-Jenkins in a 24-17 victory over the Jets.
“This is a huge game,” Slater said. “… We know what kind of game it’s going to be, and we have to find a way to get out of there with a win. But not only that, we need to play well. We need to play with confidence. We need to play with energy, great focus, great execution. So that’s our goal for the week.”
— The Patriots have started slowly in each of their three losses this season, all of which have come away from Gillette Stadium. Halting that trend will be one of their top priorities this weekend.
“I think it’s just a mentality,” Hogan said. “You can’t really dip your toe in the water, especially when you’re playing games away. In a hostile environment, when the crowd gets really into it, if you dip your toe in the water, you could be down 14-0, like we found ourselves in a couple of cases here.
“So I think we’ve got to just dive headfirst, get it going as fast as we can. Good plays and positive plays help that. No negative plays. Those are drive-killers, and they lead to slower starts.”
The Patriots faced early deficits of 14-0, 13-0 and 17-3 in double-digit losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions and Titans, respectively. They were outscored 34-3 in the first quarter and 58-16 in the first half of those games.
Slow starts were an issue even in New England’s road wins. The Patriots trailed the Chicago Bears 17-7 before rallying to win 38-31, then failed to find the end zone until the fourth quarter in a 25-6 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images