With three of New England's seven active-roster defensive lineman (including starters Vince Wilforkand Ty Warren) unavailable for Sunday's game in Buffalo, rookie Ron Bracegot his biggest dose of the NFL to date.
Brace started at left end, where Warren normally lines up, against the Bills and finished the afternoon with four tackles (three solo).
"Tell you the truth, the first series, a lot of butterflies," Brace admitted afterward, "because that's the first game I've played from beginning to end since he Senior Bowl [last January]. It went pretty well. We got our first road win, so that's a plus."
Head coach Bill Belichickoffered his assessment of Brace on Monday after watching the game tapes.
"I thought Ron did a pretty solid job in there. Wasn't perfect, there were some things that I'm sure, when he sees the film, he'll be able to see how he could have handled those better. He was in on a few plays. He moved laterally down the line of scrimmage several times and made some tackles. He's a strong guy. Did a good job of pushing inside, didn't get knocked off the ball. That's important."
Brace pointed out a few areas for self-improvement immediately following the Bills game.
"I just have to be more technically sound," he observed, "getting my feet ready, I was [playing] too high, my hands were [positioned] wrong some plays."
One play in particular during which Brace stood out – for the wrong reasons – was on his 15-yard facemask penalty in the fourth quarter. He had rushed to the aid of linebacker Gary Guyton, who was in the process of sacking Bills backup QB Trent Edwards. But when Brace attempted to get a grip on Edwards' body, he instead grabbed his facemask and pulled the quarterback to the ground.
"Oh, yeah, that was bad," Brace recalled with a shy smile. "That was my first half-sack … I was trying to reach for his stomach, he stuck his head down … that was a real heartbreaker right there."
It's been a difficult transition from college to the NFL for the Springfield, Mass. native who starred at Boston College. The second of New England's four second-round picks in this year's draft, the 6-3, 330-pounder has been active for just seven games, and has registered tackles in just four of those.
Brace said he found out the day before the Buffalo game that he'd been getting an extended opportunity against the Bills. In the meantime, he's been relying on a support staff of family and teammates to help him adjust to the uncertainties of life in the NFL.
"Coming from a year ago and playing almost every defensive snap to coming in and not playing one, it is kind of a hard situation for a football player," Brace acknowledged. "But everybody tells me to keep my head up and do my job and be ready for whenever they call you number. Football's a game you can't really predict.
"Yeah, this whole year, you never know what's going to happen week to week, so I just tried to keep myself ready, knowing everybody's positions because I didn't know where I was going to be thrown. This week, I just happened to get my number called, so I thank God for that."
Monday locker room notebook
The Patriots wrapped up their film review of Buffalo and any necessary post-game workouts or treatment. LB Tully Banta-Cainand DL Mike Wright, two of the defensive stars yesterday, fielded a few questions from reporters, but otherwise, a quiet day in the New England locker room at Gillette Stadium.
The team will prepare for its final regular season home game this week while trying to balance the demands of the Christmas holiday on Friday.