The New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills are set to square off in one of the biggest regular season games in recent memory on Sunday afternoon. With major division and playoff implications on the line, the two rivals’ meeting at Gillette Stadium will likely decide the winner of the AFC East and which team will get a chance to open the playoffs at home.
With conditions set to be much different than they were three weeks ago when the Patriots and Bills first met, both teams might have a much different game plan and approach.
Let’s dive into our Sunday Patriots Notes and catch up on all things that happened this week.
1. Jakobi Meyers says N’Keal Harry inspired him. Just a few days after the Patriots selected N’Keal Harry in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, they signed undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers. Earlier this week, Meyers appeared on Kyle Van Noy’s Elite Eatz show and went into detail regarding signing with the Patriots and what motivated him when he got here.
“You know N’Keal is my brother. I love N’Keal. We are with each other every day,” Meyers said. “But when it came down to picking teams, I looked at all the teams who offered me, and it was: did they draft a receiver? If they drafted a receiver, where did they draft him?”
Meyers later got into what motivated him after the Patriots took Harry.
“The highest-drafted that was a receiver was the Patriots,” he said. “I’m going to go in there and show them I could play with a first-rounder. I was just kind of betting on myself.”
This type of mindset has helped Meyers mold into the Patriots’ every-down slot receiver who has been a consistent chain-mover for the team the last two seasons. Add another undrafted gem of a find by Bill Belichick and company.
2.Mac Jones gets a key weapon back. Patriots fans held their breath all week long once wide receiver Kendrick Bourne was placed on the Covid-19 reserve list on Monday afternoon. With Nelson Agholor out with a concussion and N’Keal Harry listed as questionable due to a hip ailment, quarterback Mac Jones would have been without several skill players on the outside that may have forced guys like Gunner Olszewski and Kristian Wilkerson to see a lot more snaps offensively than they normally would.
However, Christmas delivered Jones and the Patriots a gift on Saturday afternoon: Bourne was activated off the Coronavirus list and is set to play this afternoon. Bourne leads all New England receivers in catches (45), yards (667) and touchdowns (5). With Bourne back in the fold, the team is as close to full strength as possible on Sunday afternoon.
3. A big opportunity for Kristan Wilkerson. Second-year wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson made headlines this past summer, stringing some strong training camp practices together and from time to time looking like the best receiver on the field. When roster cutdown day came, however, Wilkerson was let go; he later was signed back onto the Patriots practice squad — a familiar procedure after he also spent the 2020 season on New England’s developmental roster.
Considering that Nelson Agholor was ruled out of the game against Buffalo, and the uncertainty surrounding N’Keal Harry and Kendrick Bourne all week, Wilkerson was elevated to the game-day roster in light of Sunday’s game. In case Harry and Bourne are limited, Wilkerson could see some meaningful snaps against the Bills.
4. Harrison Phillips becomes the latest player speaking out about the Patriots offense. A week after Indianapolis Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke wanted to “put the game in Mac Jones’ hands,” Bills defensive lineman Harrison Phillips had a similar message heading into this weeks matchup.
After the Bills’ win over the Carolina Panthers, Phillips was quick to look ahead to the matchup with the Patriots.
“I think a lot of guys had the game on last night,” Phillips said. “We watched the Colts go up early on and, kind of, forcing [the Patriots] to get one-dimensional, you know, throw the ball that way.”
This, of course, came after the Colts got on the Patriots early by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown and forcing a pair of interceptions that completely changed the game. With the Bills not seeing much from the Patriots passing game a few weeks back due to the conditions, we’ll see what offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has in store on Sunday.
5. Josh McDaniels says playing the Bills is a “bit of tug and war.” New England’s offensive player-caller was how to prepare for an opponent you have a lot of familiarity with.
“Whenever you play a division opponent this close together there’s always a bit of tug and war going on,” McDaniels said. “You may have had success with something and then you say, ‘We’ve got to do this again, right?’ But the other team knows you had success with it so they try to stop it, they may do some things differently, play it differently.”
Due to the conditions the last time these two met, the Patriots ran the ball north of 40 times during Week 13’s 14-10 win. The Bills therefore still have not seen the New England offense operate with Mac Jones spreading the ball around.
6. Hunter Henry chasing records in 2021. One of the main reasons why the Patriots signed tight end Hunter Henry to a three-year, $37 million dollar deal in the offseason was to improve their red zone efficiency. After a slow first month, Henry has burst onto the scene and is now tied for the league-lead amongst tight ends with nine touchdowns on the season.
Henry is now also tied with Ben Coates for the sixth most touchdowns in a single-season by a Patriots tight end. Rob Gronkowski holds his own inside the top five, but Henry is just two away from moving inside the top three in franchise history.
7. More targets for N’Keal Harry?: It’s been a rocky start to N’Keal Harry’s career after the Patriots selected him in the first round back in April of 2019. Harry’s college tape was full of athletic catches where he was constantly making plays over the top of defenders and making plays with the ball in his hands in space.
Last week, for the first time in what seemed like forever, we saw a glimpse of the downfield presence Harry can provide when he came over the top of Kenny Moore and made a big catch late in the game. With Nelson Agholor out and Kendrick Bourne missing the entire week with Covid, Sunday could be a real opportunity for N’Keal Harry to get more targets down the field with his growing chemistry with Mac Jones.