The New England Patriots’ season ended with a whimper, with the team losing 35-23 to the Buffalo Bills to drop out of the playoff picture and fall to 8-9 on the year. While the Patriots were competitive for much of the game, their performance as a whole simply was not good enough to keep up with one of the league’s best teams.
That was true for the veterans on the roster, and for most of the rookies as well. With that in mind, 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 work our way down to the undrafted free agents.
G Cole Strange (1-29): New England’s first-round pick ended his rookie season on a high individual note. Not only did he again go wire-to-wire at the left guard position, playing all 68 offensive snaps, he also competed as both a pass protector and a run blocker. Strange did not give up a single quarterback pressure all day, while also moving well in the ground game. It was one of his best performances all year.
WR Tyquan Thornton (2-50): Coming off an encouraging performance against Miami, Thornton played 37 snaps (54%) as a rotational third/fourth option at wide receiver. He remained silent, however: the second-round pick ended up catching one 13-yard pass on two targets.
CB/KR/PR/WR Marcus Jones (3-85): While Marcus Jones had a relatively quiet day at the office, the hyper-versatile third-rounder again saw action in all three phases of the game. A majority of his snaps — 51 (86%) — came on defense, where he played a starter-level role as an outside cornerback and gave up three catches on five targets for 39 yards. Additionally, he played nine (35%) snaps on special teams, finishing with three punt returns for a combined 25 yards and four kickoff runbacks for 82. He also was on the field for two downs (3%) on offense but did not touch the ball.
RB/KR Pierre Strong Jr. (4-127): New England’s fourth-round selection had a disappointing day in Buffalo. Not only did Strong Jr. play one solitary snap on offense (1%), he also was on the field for only five kicking game plays (19%) — his lowest output since Week 7. With no injury announced, it appears the team simply pulled him from select packages after he overran Buffalo’s first kickoff return touchdown.
QB Bailey Zappe (4-137): Mac Jones did throw three interceptions late in the game, but the Patriots still did not insert Zappe into the lineup. For a 13th game this season, the fourth-round pick watched the entirety of the game from afar.
RB Kevin Harris (6-183): With Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris as the 1-2 punch at running back, New England did not move the sixth-round rookie to its game-day team. Harris was declared a healthy scratch for a second straight game, ending his first NFL campaign with just five in-game appearances.
DT Sam Roberts (6-200): For the fourth straight game and 11th overall this season, the Patriots decided against making Roberts active. The sixth-round rookie was a healthy scratch against the Bills.
S/ST Brenden Schooler (UDFA): Schooler’s impressive rookie campaign ended on the sidelines. The five-unit special teamer was declared inactive with a hip injury, missing the first game of his young career.
LB/ST DaMarcus Mitchell (UDFA): Usually a five-unit special teamer who ranks among the team leaders in kicking game snaps, Mitchell was limited to only nine plays (35%). The undrafted free agent suffered a head injury on a punt return in the early second quarter, and was later ruled out for the remainder of the contest.
LS Tucker Addington (UDFA): With usual long snapper Joe Cardona out for the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury, Addington again took his place on the game-day roster. He ended up playing seven snaps (27%) and appears to have done a solid job.
WR/ST Raleigh Webb (UDFA): With Schooler and Mitchell missing all or most of the game, respectively, the Patriots gave Webb his most extensive action to date. He was on the field for 18 snaps (69%), and saw action on all four return and coverage teams — a first for him this year. Webb was partially responsible for the Bills’ first kickoff return touchdown, rushing too far upfield and failing to contain the edge.
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 did not see any live action since his promotion to the active roster in November.
The Patriots’ rookie class extends beyond those 12 players. Offensive lineman Hayden Howerton, defensive tackle Jeremiah Pharms Jr. and defensive backs Brad Hawkins and Quandre Mosely all resided on the practice squad for the season finale. New England did not elevate any of them to the game-day team versus the Bills, meaning that Howerton, Pharms Jr. and Hawkins ended the season with all three possible elevations unused; Mosely was elevated once, in Week 17 against Miami.
Additionally, the Patriots had four rookie players on reserve lists. Sixth-round offensive lineman Chasen Hines remained on injured reserve despite being eligible to return; seventh-round offensive tackle Andrew Stueber did return to practice but was never activated off the non-football injury list; UDFA defensive lineman LaBryan Ray ended the year on the practice squad injury list.
Then, there is Jack Jones. The impressive fourth-round rookie was sent to injured reserve ahead of Week 17. He later was sent to the reserve/suspended list after reportedly missing rehabilitation appointments. Jones has since been reinstated, but his promising rookie season still came to a disappointing end.