Bill Belichick kicked off the Patriots third-straight week facing an AFC East opponent with some effusive praise for the Bills.
“Obviously, the Bills are playing well in all three phases of the game,” said Belichick. “They've played well every week. They've played their best football in some critical situations, in the fourth quarter against Cincinnati, against the Jets. [They have] a lot of explosive players on offense, a lot of experience, cohesiveness and good players on defense, explosive players with experience and playmakers in the kicking game. So, pretty solid across the board.”
Tom Brady agreed, seeing a big challenge in Buffalo's defense.
"They're good at all levels," said Brady in his Wednesday press conference. "That's the challenging part. They have a good front, very good at linebacker, very good at secondary, play the pass well, tough physical style of defense. Well coached. Fundamentally sound. They play well at home, it's a great environment."
One focal point for the Patriots defense will be Josh Allen, as the second-year quarterback has the Bills off to their first 3-0 start since 2011. Allen has three touchdowns passes and three interceptions, but has run for two touchdowns as well and is averaging 7.3 yards-per-rushing-attempt. Containing the mobile quarterback will be a major concern for the Patriots.
“He's like a running back,” said Belichick. “He breaks tackles, he's got good speed, good power and he's shifty and he avoids and breaks a lot of tackles. Yeah, that's another dimension. A sixth receiver in the passing game, if you will, and gives you another blocker in the running game when they have designed run plays for him. They've hit a lot of them at critical times, a lot of big plays, touchdowns, red area, third-down conversions, things like that.”
But the biggest concern for the Patriots might be the vaunted Bills defense, ranked 6th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. They feature an aggressive front and an experienced secondary that should give Tom Brady and New England’s offense their biggest challenge yet.
"They're a physical defense, they're smart guys they disguise well," James White said. "They have everything they need, they play sound football, smart football and it's going to be a great challenge for us. Tough environment, gotta see what we're made of."
Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are two veterans on the back end that do everything well.
“They disguise very well together and are very instinctive,” said Belichick. “There's definitely a level of interchangeability so it's hard to key on one guy, and really both guys, they complement each other well. You've got to see it post-snap. They're not going to give you much pre-snap but they time up their blitzes well with the cadence and motions, things like that that come with the formations. This is a very savvy defense.
“They don't make any mistakes. You've got to execute, you've got to handle everything they do. They don't give up much. They make you work for every yard.”
Brady looked forward to playing in the tough environment with so many passionate Bills fans.
"To go on the road in the NFL is tough," said Brady. "Certainly early in the game after their pregame tailgate and they're a little fired up. They're pretty into it, they're loud. We gotta go out and execute early. Starting fast, which we've actually done a good job of this year, that's important this week."
With an open spot on their 53-man roster after moving James Develin to Injured Reserve earlier this week, the Patriots signed quarterback Cody Kessler to their active roster. A three-year veteran, Kessler has 12 career starts for Cleveland and Jacksonville, with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
It gives the Patriots some veteran depth to help with practice preparations and should also be an aid to rookie Jarrett Stidham, who saw brief game action against the Jets before throwing a pick-six and promptly getting the hook.
The team also signed tight end Jason Vander Laan, a college quarterback at Ferris State who won the Harlon Hill Trophy as the best player in Division II in both 2014 and 2015. He’s spent three seasons on practice squads with the Jets, Colts and Panthers, including 4 games played in Indy in 2017.
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots had full attendance at practice, including Julian Edelman, who left the Jets game with a chest injury. To be headed into Week 4 and have your entire team at practice is a great sign, though injury concerns could still keep some players like Edelman out of the game this weekend.
The injury report however was reflective of all the injuries the Patriots are fighting through.
DE Michael Bennett, Shoulder
QB Tom Brady, Calf
RB Rex Burkhead, Foot
S Nate Ebner, Groin
WR Julian Edelman, Chest
LB Dont'a Hightower, Shoulder
TE Ryan Izzo, Calf
TE Matt LaCosse, Ankle
T Marshall Newhouse, Illness
G Joe Thuney, Shoulder
T Marcus Cannon, Shoulder
Locker Room Sound Bites
Jake Bailey after winning the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week:
"It's been awesome. Today's just been a normal day. It's been nice to get back to work and progress every day being out here."