Some quick thinking by Josh Uche in his NFL debut earned the New England Patriots rookie an attaboy from head coach Bill Belichick.
On the first play of the second half of Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills, just 10 Patriots defenders took the field. As the ball was snapped, Uche came sprinting in from the sideline.
In the moment, it looked like a mental mistake by Uche, who helped Lawrence Guy bring down running back Devin Singletary for a 6-yard gain on the play. But the third-round draft pick actually was not at fault.
As Belichick explained Monday, the Patriots were light on defense because starting linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley was late leaving the locker room. The coaches didn’t notice Bentley’s absence, but Uche did and jumped in to fill his spot.
“(Bentley) didn?t come out for the start of the second half, and we just weren?t aware that he wasn?t out there,” Belichick said in a video conference. “He was out there, but it was not until the next play. … He was in the locker room dealing with something in the locker room and came out as quickly as he could.
“We just weren?t aware — we all thought he was there, and he wasn?t there. Josh actually was the first one to recognize it, pretty alertly, and got on the field. It wasn?t an injury problem per se, but (Bentley) just wasn?t there.”
Bentley checked back in one play later, moving Uche back to the sub-package role he played for much of Sunday’s game. The Patriots primarily used the athletic second-round draft pick as a situational pass rusher but shifted him to inside linebacker late in the game after Bentley suffered a groin injury.
Uche played 12 defensive snaps in all, finishing with one tackle — an open-field stop of quarterback Josh Allen on third down — and one QB hit. It was a promising start for the Michigan product, who was a healthy scratch for New England’s season opener and then missed five straight games due to injury.
?He played a handful of plays,” Belichick said. “There were some positive things, and as you?d expect, there?s some things that he can improve on. But it was good to have him out there. He?ll keep working hard. He?s a hard-working kid and gives us great effort every day, so we?ll keep working and see where it goes from here.”