The New England Patriots lost their first matchup with the Buffalo Bills this season, getting beaten 24-10 on Thursday Night Football. Just like the Patriots’ other games this season, their Week 13 loss once again saw considerable contributions from the team’s rookie class.
Let’s quickly go through all of the first-year players currently on the team to find out how they performed against the Bills. As always, we will start with first-round draft pick Cole Strange and move all the way down to the undrafted free agents.
G Cole Strange (1-29): Playing all 54 offensive snaps at left guard, Strange had a solid outing. He was flagged for a hold in the second quarter, but also surrendered just one quarterback hurry all day, according to Pro Football Focus. The return of center David Andrews certainly helped him return to form against a talented Buffalo front, but the bottom line is that strange looked a lot better again.
WR Tyquan Thornton (2-50): Coming off a string of quiet games, the Patriots’ second-round pick had his most productive in weeks against Buffalo. Playing 21 snaps (39%), primarily as an outside receiver, Thornton finished with two receptions on three targets for 31 yards — the second highest such output on the team and his best performance since a two-touchdown day in Week 7.
CB/KR/PR/WR Marcus Jones (3-85): Marcus Jones continues to be a playmaker for the Patriots no matter how used. Against Buffalo, the team employed the hyper-versatile rookie on offense for the first time: he ended up catching two passes for a team-high 51 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown. Besides his contributions on offense, Jones also played 34 snaps on defense (45%) and 10 in the kicking game. While he was quiet as a return man this time around, he played an encouraging game moving between the slot and perimeter at the cornerback position.
CB Jack Jones (4-121): With starting outside cornerback Jalen Mills out due to a groin injury, Jones effectively filled his spot in the lineup. The fourth-rounder ended up playing 57 defensive snaps (76%), allowing two receptions for 22 yards on six targets. He also was flagged twice, however: he was called for a 22-yard pass interference in the first quarter to allow Buffalo to convert a 3rd-and-9 on an eventual touchdown drive; he also was flagged for a declined hold on a second-quarter TD.
RB/ST Pierre Strong Jr. (4-127): Despite Damien Harris being inactive, Strong Jr. continued to be used exclusively on special teams. The fourth-rounder played nine snaps between three units — kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt return — and did not stand out in any meaningful way.
QB Bailey Zappe (4-137): Mac Jones went wire-to-wire, which once again meant that Zappe would remain on the sidelines. Unless the injury bug bites Jones again it seems unlikely the fourth-rounder will return to the starting lineup anytime soon.
RB Kevin Harris (6-183): With Damien Harris out because of a thigh injury, the sixth-rounder served as the de facto No. 2 at running back behind Rhamondre Stevenson. He still played only a single offensive snap — carrying the ball for a 1-yard loss — and so no special teams action either.
DT/ST Sam Roberts (6-200): After being inactive as a healthy scratch in four straight games, the Patriots decided to activate Roberts again. He played four snaps on the field goal blocking team but did not see any action on the defensive side of the ball.
S/ST Brenden Schooler (UDFA): Once again tying for the team lead with 21 snaps on special teams, Schooler continues to be a prominent presence for the team. Not only is he used on five kicking game units, he also registered another tackle to bring his season total to 12 — by far the highest such number on the team. He was also credited for one missed takedown opportunity, though.
LB/ST DaMarcus Mitchell (UDFA): Playing 19 snaps on special teams — third most on the team behind Brenden Schooler and Matthew Slater — Mitchell again served as a five-unit player. He did not register any statistics, but was flagged for a hold on a kickoff return in the early second quarter. The play cost New England eight yards deep in its own territory; the offense went three-and-out.
WR/ST Raleigh Webb (UDFA): Webb played his usual role on three special teams units, seeing action on the kickoff coverage, kickoff return and punt return squads. He did not register any statistics in his 10 snaps in the game’s third phase.
OL Kody Russey (UDFA): With the Patriots’ interior offensive line once again going wire-to-wire, Russey remained on the sideline throughout the game. The undrafted free agent out of Houston has yet to see any game action since his promotion to the active roster last month.
The Patriots’ rookie class extends beyond those 12 players. Offensive lineman Hayden Howerton, defensive tackle Jeremiah Pharms Jr. and defensive back Brad Hawkins are all on the practice squad. New England did not elevate any of them to the game-day team versus the Bills, meaning that they all still have three standard elevations available.
Additionally, the Patriots have three rookie players on injury-related reserve lists. Sixth-round offensive lineman Chasen Hines is on injured reserve but already eligible to return; seventh-round offensive tackle Andrew Stueber remains on the non-football injury list and appears to be in the middle of a redshirt campaign; UDFA defensive lineman LaBryan Ray is still on the practice squad injury list.