Since arriving in Foxborough via trade in late October, OLB Akeem Ayers has been a pleasant surprise in New England's defense.
The 25-year-old was once a high draft choice of the Tennessee Titans, but this season had become an afterthought in Nashville. In New England, a different story. He's registered 16 tackles, three sacks, an interception against San Diego, and a pass breakup to his credit thus far.
Ayers has shown a knack for making big plays since his very first game, against Chicago in Week 8. He said Wednesday that each week, he's digesting more and more of the team's defensive playbook and being given a more elaborate role in games.
"It's pretty much week-by-week for me, so, whatever it is this week that I'll be doing, I'll focus on that," he stated. "I enjoy it a lot, because I have a good amount of versatility. I'm able to do a lot of things, move around sometimes. I really enjoy it. I think I enjoy that most.
"Every week, I'm still learning, building off each week. I think I'm a lot further than when I came, of course. I'm still getting comfortable, still learning, getting better with communication with the guys out there on the field."
Critics of Ayers in Tennessee frequently cited what they perceived to be his lack of enthusiasm for the game, but as a Patriot, Ayers certainly seems like a player who's happy to go to work every day.
"I think I always enjoyed it, since the first day I got here, but I'm enjoying it a lot more," he admitted with a smile, "being more comfortable and understanding the defense a lot more. And I'm a lot more comfortable with my teammates. I'm having more fun each week."
DL Sealver Siliga (foot) was an active participant against San Diego – his first game action since being injured in Week 3 against Oakland. Siliga had been practicing for the past couple of weeks and was finally activated against the Chargers.
Check out photos from access to players and coaches during Week 15 as the Patriots prepare to play the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium this Sunday.
Siliga made his presence felt with an assisted sack of Chargers QB Philip Rivers in the fourth quarter, along with three assisted tackles. Afterward, several of his teammates maintained that Siliga's presence gave the defense a boost on the field.
"I just went out there and played off everybody else and tried to do my job," Siliga insisted Wednesday. "I didn't try to do too much. I just go out there and try to have fun." He admitted to being surprised at how many snaps he was able to get in his first game back. "Yeah, I was, but I was ready for whatever they were going to throw at me and prepared all week just in cast that did happen."
Siliga had been on injured reserve with a designation to return, so, he knew he'd be called back up to the 53-man roster eventually. However, the long layoff was difficult. "It was terrible. I hated it," Siliga acknowledged. "There was nothing I could do, just heal up."
The NFL named punter Ryan Allen its AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in the Patriots' 23-14 victory over San Diego last Sunday. It is the first time in Allen's career that he has been awarded the honor.
In San Diego, Allen punted five times for 247 yards (49.4 average) and placed four of his punts at or inside the Chargers' 13-yard line, helping to limit San Diego's average drive start to their own 17-yard line. Allen's longest punt covered 60 yards, and the Patriots' coverage unit yielded only two punt returns for seven yards, including Brandon Bolden's blocked punt against the Chargers' punter, Mike Scifres.
Ryan said he learned of his award from teammate Stephen Gostkowski, who ribbed him about it as the punter walked into the locker room Wednesday morning.
"Yeah, I wasn't even focused on that," an admittedly surprised Allen told reporters. "All around, I think we were happy with our execution as a whole unit and special teams in general. We played a good game last Sunday, so, we were happy about that."
The Patriots were back in Foxborough for practice Wednesday after being out in Southern California all last week. The weather outside was wet and wintry as a cold, light rain fell when the team went outside for their first session of Dolphins Week.
Linebacker Chris White (ankle) was back in uniform after missing the past couple of games and several practices. He was injured during practice on Thanksgiving Day and has been on the shelf ever since.
Meanwhile, rookie DL Dominique Easley and RB LeGarrette Blount were the only two Patriots not on the field. Easley has been in and out with a knee injury all season. Blount's absence is believed to have been non-injury-related.