By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The result wasn’t what the Patriots wanted and the defense didn’t have a perfect day against the Bills, but a bright spot was a solid debut from rookie linebacker Josh Uche.
Uche only played nine defensive snaps, excluding three final kneeldowns. But the rookie flashed his athleticism and at times made a positive impact.
With Uche on the field, Bills quarterback Josh Allen was only 2-for-5 for 11 yards with an interception through the air – an abysmal 8.3 passer rating. On the ground, the Bills gained jut two yards on three carries. In all, Buffalo averaged just 1.6 yards per play going against the Patriots defense with Uche out there.
Obviously, one player doesn’t make that much of a difference for a Bill Belichick-coached defensive unit, especially when we’re only talking about eight plays. But Uche notably impacted the game on two particular snaps, one of which was the first of his career. Going one-on-one against Dion Dawkins on an early third down play, Uche pushed the left tackle back and got a hand in the air, which flushed Allen out of the pocket and rushed him into an incompletion. Uche hit Allen as he threw.
Another impactful play for Uche came in the third quarter with the Bills facing third-and-8, backed up at their own 10-yard line. Uche started back in coverage with an eye on running back Devin Singletary, but showed good pursuit when Allen took off for a scramble as he closed and wrapped the quarterback up for an open-field tackle. Allen is a strong and elusive runner at his position, so tackling him in space is not easy. Uche made it look that way.
Uche had to enter the game for a more regular role in the fourth quarter after middle linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley left the game with a groin injury. He played more inside LB and dropped back into coverage. He pursued running backs well and read Allen’s eyes on one play when he crossed the field and Allen threw an incomplete pass.
Uche certainly seems best suited as an edge rusher to start his career, but he showed decent versatility when forced into a variety of roles in a tough situation during a close game. It was encouraging to see the rookie make a couple of plays for a defense that struggled against the run – Uche didn’t see the field on any of the Bills’ three touchdown drives – and came up short situationally.
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“I just had to be prepared for whatever was needed of me,” Uche said after the game. “Whenever my number was called and whenever I was needed, I just had to be prepared.”
If the season is going to slip away from the 2-5 Patriots, then it will only get more important to find positive building blocks for the future. After fighting through multiple injuries to start his rookie season, Uche is off to a promising start.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at email@example.com.