FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots were missing a key piece of their defensive backfield at their first practice of Buffalo Bills week.
Versatile safety Kyle Dugger was not spotted during the open media portion of Wednesday’s Patriots practice. The reason for his absence was unclear.
Dugger has started 10 of New England’s 12 games this season, leading the team with 80 tackles and playing 81.3% of defensive snaps, fourth-most behind Devin McCourty, J.C. Jackson and Matthew Judon.
New England’s safety trio of Dugger, McCourty and Adrian Phillips has been a vital part of a defense that leads the NFL in points allowed per game and interception rate. The three have combined for nine interceptions this season.
The Patriots did get one notable defender back at practice Wednesday, with linebacker Jamie Collins returning from injured reserve. New England has 21 days to add Collins — who suffered an ankle injury in the team’s Week 9 win over the Carolina Panthers — to its 53-man roster before he would revert to season-ending IR.
Collins has appeared in five games since returning for a third stint with the Patriots in mid-October, logging one sack, two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and one acrobatic interception. He’ll be eligible to play Monday night in Buffalo if activated.
The Patriots currently hold a half-game lead over the division-rival Bills in the AFC East standings.