Patriots Notes: Josh Uche Flashes In Debut; Damien Harris Not Happy With Career Day

A long-awaited debut for the second-round draft pick

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Some assorted notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Bills Stadium:

— Sunday’s game featured the first NFL appearance by rookie linebacker Josh Uche, who stood out positively in limited action.

Uche, a 2020 second-round draft pick out of Michigan, registered a quarterback hit on Josh Allen that forced a third-down incompletion on Buffalo’s second possession, then made a sound open-field tackle on Allen to force a third-quarter punt.

Gunner Olszewski returned that punt to the Bills’ 37-yard line, and Damien Harris scored New England’s first touchdown of the game six plays later.

Uche’s primary role was as a situational pass rush, but he took over starting inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley’s spot after Bentley suffered a groin injury in the fourth quarter.

“I just had to be prepared for whatever was needed of me,” said Uche, who can play either on the edge or off the line. “Whenever my number was called and whenever I was needed, I just had to be prepared.”

Uche said he “definitely” felt prepared to fill Bentley’s role late in the game.

“The coaching staff, Coach (Jerod) Mayo and Coach Steve (Belichick) do a great job coaching us,” he said. “They make sure we’re prepared for everything and we’re never surprised by any type of looks. So I was ready.”

Uche’s NFL debut came much later than many training camp observers expected. A summer standout, the 22-year-old surprisingly sat out New England’s season opener as a healthy scratch, then missed the next five games due to injury.

He was activated off injured reserve Saturday and, based on his early returns, could see additional playing time in the coming weeks, especially if Bentley’s injury sidelines him.

“It was a blessing,” Uche said of his return to the field. “This is a moment you dream about. Ever since I got here, I’ve just been trying to find a way to contribute, no matter how that is. And to finally get the opportunity, it’s definitely a good feeling.”

— Second-year outside linebacker Chase Winovich saw his playing time drop yet again. He played just five defensive snaps against Buffalo, all in obvious passing situations, plus one more that was blown dead for a penalty.

An every-down player for the first four weeks of the season, Winovich played just 22 snaps in Week 6 (34.4 percent) and 13 percent in Week 7 (19.7 percent). His five snaps Sunday represented a new career low for the 2019 third-round draft pick.

Rookie Anfernee Jennings played zero defensive snaps after logging a career-high 53 last week against the San Francisco 49ers.

— Running back Damien Harris delivered his second 100-yard effort in four games, finishing with a game- and career-high 102 on 16 carries with one 22-yard touchdown.

Harris’ 6.4 yards-per-carry average was tied for the eighth-highest this season by a player with at least 15 rushing attempts. The last Patriot to reach that mark with 15-plus carries was Sony Michel in 2018 (18 carries, 116 yards vs. Buffalo).

The second-year pro wasn’t interested in celebrating his performance after the game, however.

“I can’t say I’m too happy about anything right now,” Harris said in his postgame video conference. “Winning is more important than anything. … We’re here to win. This is a production business, and the most productive thing you can do in this league is to win. It doesn’t matter who does what or what somebody’s stats are if we don’t come out and win the game.

“So I’m not really that happy about it. I mean, it’s great, I guess, but ultimately, it didn’t really contribute to our team winning. We’ve just got to find ways to win. That’s the bottom line.”

Losers of four straight, the Patriots now sit at 2-5.

It will be interesting to see how and if Harris’s role evolves in the coming weeks. The 2019 third-rounder has been New England’s lead back since Michel landed on IR before Week 4. Will he keep that spot once Michel, who became eligible to return this past week, is back in the mix?

Thumbnail photo via Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports Images

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