Patriots Notes: Undrafted Rookie Continues To Show Promise In Loss To Rams

Plus: Damien Harris leaves with an injury


December 11, 2020

Some assorted notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ 24-3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night at SoFi Stadium:

— Undrafted rookie defensive back Myles Bryant wrested his first career interception away from Rams receiver Robert Woods in the first half, providing one of the few bright spots on an ugly night for New England.

Despite beginning the season on the practice squad — where he handled duties like imitating Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — and not making his NFL debut until Week 8, Bryant has seen his role on defense steadily increase in recent weeks. A self-proclaimed “Swiss Army knife,” he’s become a staple in New England’s third-down package, playing everywhere from free safety to cornerback to linebacker.

“I play practice squad quarterback, I?ve taken some routes out of the backfield as a scout guy for our defense,” Bryant said in a postgame video conference. “Whatever it is — kickoff, punt return, third downs — wherever they need me, I?m just ready to do it.?

Patriots coach Bill Belichick and star cornerback Stephon Gilmore both praised Bryant last week, commending him for his versatility and work ethic. Safety Devin McCourty and special teams captain Matthew Slater joined that chorus Thursday night.

?Myles knows what (job) everybody has in the secondary and is ready to go at any position,” McCourty said. “Whether that?s been the nickel, safety — any position we?ve asked Myles to be at, he not just shows up and plays, but he knows what the other guys are doing.

“So I?m happy to see him get more playing time, and then to make a big play like he made was crucial for us early in the game. ? I think he?s going to be a really good player, just because of his study habits and how hard he works. I?m excited for him.”

Slater said he recently had a conversation with Bryant in which the 22-year-old Washington product expressed “how thankful and how blessed he is” to be contributing this season.

“And that says a lot about Myles,” Slater said. “His character is so high. He?s such a good kid. He?s wise beyond his years, he appreciates his opportunity, he works at it every day and he?s a pro. For a young guy who just is getting his career started, he?s a pro. None of us are surprised that he?s out here contributing the way that he is, because he does it every single day in practice.”

Bryant is one of three undrafted players in New England’s defensive backfield, joining Jonathan Jones (2014) and J.C. Jackson (2018). The Patriots have a knack for finding talented UDFA DBs, with players like Malcolm Butler, Kenny Moore, Cre’von LeBlanc and Randall Gay also getting their starts in Foxboro.

?That was a message that I got immediately, not only from (Jones and Jackson), but from the coaches,” Bryant said. “They just told me the history of the undrafted players who come in here and make big impacts. So that was my mindset from Day 1: just come in here, do my job, try to make an impact and help this team any way I can.”

Bryant’s interception initially was ruled a pick-six, but upon review, officials deemed him down by contact, giving the Patriots the ball at the Rams’ 32-yard line.

?I wasn?t quite sure if I was down or not,? Bryant said. ?I really just have to take it with whatever they give me, but I was really just trying to help the offense, just give them an opportunity to score the ball.?

New England’s offense squandered that opportunity, with Cam Newton throwing an interception of his own three plays later that linebacker Kenny Young returned 79 yards for a touchdown. Newton later was benched for the second time this season.

— Punter Ryan Allen played a starring role in the last Patriots-Rams matchup, dropping three punts inside L.A.’s 10-yard line in Super Bowl LIII.

Allen’s successor, Jake Bailey, was similarly excellent Thursday night.

Bailey, who entered Week 14 ranked second in the NFL in net punting average, punted six times for an average of 51.4 yards, including a booming 71-yarder. Four of his punts were downed or fair-caught inside the 20, and Rams returned Nsimba Webster managed just 8 total punt return yards.

A rookie standout in 2019, Bailey is performing at a Pro Bowl level this season.

?I think Jake is as good a punter as there is in the National Football League with some of the things that he?s able to do,” Slater said. “Obviously, his leg strength and hang time give us a huge boost when you talk about flipping the field. I thought he did that as well tonight as he?s done all year long.

“He?s been so consistent for us, and the thing you appreciate about a young player like that is his desire to continue to improve. He?s not satisfied with where he?s at. He always wants to get better. …. I appreciate having a guy like Jake. It makes the game a lot of fun for us when we do have to go out there and punt.”

Patriots punt returner Gunner Olszewski also had another productive outing, picking up 19 yards on one return and 21 on another.

— The Patriots’ scuffling offense was dealt a significant blow when standout running back Damien Harris suffered a back injury early in the fourth quarter. He walked off the field with team trainers and did not return.

Harris entered the game ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in yards per carry (5.1), racking up 641 rushing yards over his first nine games. He added 50 yards on 11 carries Thursday before his injury, the severity of which remains unclear.

The Patriots already are down one running back with Rex Burkhead (knee) out for the season. If Harris misses time, New England could call on undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor to supplement veterans Sony Michel and James White.

Patriots wide receiver Donte Moncrief also left Thursday’s game with a thigh injury. Safety Adrian Phillips suffered a hand injury late in the first half but returned after halftime.

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