There's no secret what's on the line in Buffalo this weekend. Coming off three-straight losses, the Patriots are now tasked with going to the home stadium of the division-leading Bills, who are looking to finally topple New England's long reign atop the AFC East.
The Patriots need a win for a lot of reasons, but Bill Belichick didn't have to look further than it being a divisional game.
"Every game in this league is a big game," said Belichick on Wednesday morning via Webex. "We've only got 16 of them, so they're all important. Division games we know are more important."
The Patriots last dispatched the Bills back in December, in what was ultimately their last win of the 2019 season. It was a tightly-fought game that saw New England come from behind with 11 fourth-quarter points to seal a win and their 11th-straight AFC East title.
This season the Bills are looking to end that streak as they've added some significant firepower, with receiver Stefon Diggs the headliner to go with a rookie receiver and running back that have all added new teeth to an offense that is making strides.
"They've added a significant player in Diggs," said Belichick.
"It's real dangerous," said Adrian Phillips of pairing Diggs with Josh Allen. "Stefon he can run any route on the field and Josh is bold enough to stay alive and be able to find him.
"It's a dangerous combination when you have a receiver of that caliber and a quarterback who can get it to him anywhere on the field, so you definitely have to know where he's at all the time."
Allen's progress this season has slowed of late, but he continues to show promise as an athletic quarterback who can make all the throws. Belichick has seen Allen's decision making continue to improve.
"I thinks he does a better job of going to his second or third reads; not as quick to pull the ball down and run, although he will do that," said Belichick. "He has a good feel of when to stay in the pocket and go to a second or third read, and if things open up, when to take off and take advantage of it."
"He always puts a big challenge on the defense with his ability to run and throw the ball down the field," said Devin McCourty. "But he's doing a really good job of just sometimes taking with the defense gives him. You can see sometimes they have shots or different calls where you can see he might want to go, but he has no problem checking it down."
As for what it will take for the Patriots to go into Buffalo and get their season back on track with a win?
"It's about going out there and performing and doing it in practice each day this week and doing it in the game," said McCourty. "I think that's what we need and I think that will trickle down and help us have a good game overall and we got to try to do that for four quarters."
It was a wet first day of practice on Wednesday for the Patriots, who continue to use the upper fields for their expanded space. Two players were back as Cody Davis has begun practicing and has three weeks to return to the active roster. Adrian Phillips has filled in for Davis as the personal protector on the punt team.
James Ferentz has returned after a stint on the Reserve/Covid-19 list, leaving only Sony Michel on that list. Michel is also Injured Reserve list, along with Yodny Cajuste and Jermaine Eluemunor. They're expected to be joined by Brandon Copeland, who was also missing from practice after reports that his season was over.
Not spotted were two players from the 53-man roster, N'Keal Harry and Carl Davis. Harry took a hard hit against the 49ers and was ruled out with a head injury. He and Davis were listed on the injury report as having concussions. Practice squad players Rashod Berry and Jake Burt were also absent for reporter's access and a number of notable players like Joe Thuney, Lawrence Guy and Julian Edelman were limited in practice.
Webex Quotes of Note
James White on the team's focus this week:
It's the same, just the sense of urgency urgency has to keep going out. Obviously we haven't been on the right track the past few weeks but we know we're capable of being a good offense and we want to get back to that. It's going to be a great challenge for us, Buffalo is a good football team and a good defense. They don't give things up easily so it's going to be a great test but I think everybody's up for the task. It started off pretty good today, just got to keep it rolling."
Deatrich Wise on veteran leadership on the team:
"We have a lot of vets on our team who have been around not only this program but the league. They show their leadership daily with their encouraging words in there and what they do on the practice field. So we just follow guys like Matthew Slater, Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty, guys like that Brian Hoyer, guys who have been around the league, Lawrence Guy, guys who have been on multiple teams before and we just listen to what they have to say and we just follow suit."
David Andrews on injuries along the offensive line:
"Unfortunately it's just part of this business. Guys are going to get hurt. And it's something we've kind of dealt with, pretty much feels like every year of my career at some point. We got a great group of guys, we just gotta try to get everyone out there when they can and whoever gets the shot has got to take advantage of it."