Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has not played for three games while on the COVID-19 list. If he is able to play Monday against the Patriots, Buffalo’s run defense will present an even bigger challenge for New England. Reed Hoffman/Associated Press

Teams like the Colts and Titans have been able to expose the Bills’ rush defense this season, but it won’t come that easy for the Patriots on Monday night.

In their Week 6 and 11 losses, the Bills were bullied at the line of scrimmage. Tennessee’s Derrick Henry ripped them for 143 yards and three touchdowns – including a 76-yard scamper – and then a month later, Jonathan Taylor led a Colts attack that blitzed them for 264 yards on the ground and four rushing scores in a blowout win at Orchard Park, New York.

Those games can serve as a blueprint for the Patriots and their one-two punch of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, but that’s easier said than done.

Other than those two referenced games, Buffalo’s rush defense has been one of the best in the league this year, allowing opponents just 3.9 yards per carry, best in the AFC. They’re certainly no pushovers.

“We have a big challenge this week,” Patriots center David Andrews said. “This is a really good front, a really good defense. You look at this defense and they obviously have a lot of different players in a lot of different positions., but just how they all play together is something that sticks out to me, just how they work together really well. It will be a big challenge Monday night.”

The Patriots may face an even tougher challenge if Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei returns from a three-game absence after being placed on the COVID-19 list. He returned to practice Thursday and Friday in a limited capacity. If he’s active Monday, it would obviously be a huge boost to the Bills, who certainly missed him in that loss to the Colts.

“Another good player in it,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said of Lotulelei. “They’re very good up there. They have good depth and good talent. They just keep coming in waves. They’ve got a couple of waves of guys there. They’re all tough. They’re good playmakers. They’re consistent. They have a good defense, obviously. They’re one of the best defenses in the league. They’re good at everything. They’ve got a good front. They have good linebackers, and they have a good secondary. They’re experienced. They play together. They certainly know how to execute the defense, make adjustments, and it’s hard to fool them. You’ve got to earn it.

“They do a good job schematically. Obviously, one of the best defenses that we’ve played and we play year-in, year-out. They always make it hard, and they’ll make it hard Monday night. We’ll have to, as I said, do a good job, play aggressively, our best game.”

KENDRICK BOURNE has enjoyed a breakthrough season in his first year with the Patriots, and he credits Belichick with teaching him things that he never knew before.

The lessons Bourne has learned from Belichick have helped the wide receiver take his game to the next level. In his fifth season, he’s already approaching career-best numbers in receptions, yards and touchdowns. But more specifically, he’s learned some tricks from Belichick that have enabled him to be among the NFL’s leaders in yards after the catch with 294.

Bourne, as he explained Friday, may have thought he knew it all, but Belichick has opened his eyes to some new methods in how to run with the football. He’s translated it well into games, as evidenced by his 41-yard catch-and-run touchdown in last week’s win over the Titans.

“When I first got here … I was kind of running the ball my way, my technique of doing just how I’ve grown up playing,” Bourne said. “And then Bill kind of like, he showed me techniques that I’ve never been taught before, and this is how I know Bill is special. He just puts us through certain drills that show us how to run with the ball, and I really emphasize working on those drills when I’m doing them, how to simulate game-like reality. The more I did it at practice, the more I run better with the ball. What happens at practice just happens in the game.

“That’s what it really comes down to. Bill’s philosophy here, it just enhanced me in an amazing, rapid rate that I never thought I could get better. When I got over here, I was like, ‘Man, what could I possibly learn after four years of being in the league?’ But he taught me things that I never even drilled before and I’m like, ‘Man, this is different.’ ”

Bourne certainly isn’t satisfied, but it’s clear his new mindset is working.

“I could still get better, just certain ways I’m attacking DBs, always making it hard for them to tackle,” Bourne said. “Not just taking the easy way out and running out of bounds, stuff like that. So, always making the defense work for what they want. A lot of defenders don’t even really want to tackle, so it’s about making the job hard on them. I just take pride in it. I don’t really even get into the stats or nothing like that, I just play hard, let the game come to me and make the most of the opportunities that come. …

“I’m just glad how Bill does things over here, and it shows in the game when I get there. I see the drills that we do and it makes me run the ball better.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.