Patriots Place Starting Corner On COVID List Ahead Of Playoff Game

Jalen Mills would be a big loss for New England's defense

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The New England Patriots could be without one of their starting cornerbacks when they visit the Buffalo Bills this Saturday night.

The Patriots on Tuesday placed Jalen Mills on the reserve/COVID-19 list, putting his status for New England’s wild-card playoff game at Highmark Stadium in doubt.

If he is vaccinated, Mills could return in time for Saturday’s game. But if he can’t, his absence would leave a significant hole in the Patriots’ secondary.

Expected to play a multipositional role in his first season with New England, Mills instead has started all but one game at outside corner, playing 84.6% of defensive snaps during the regular season. Only fellow starting cornerback J.C. Jackson and safety Devin McCourty played more.

Mills allowed a touchdown pass to Bills receiver Gabriel Davis in the Patriots’ first visit to Buffalo — a 14-10 victory in Week 13 — but generally has held up well in coverage this season. He has not allowed more than three catches in a game since Week 7 and has surrendered 20 or fewer receiving yards in eight of his last nine games, per Pro Football Focus.

Third-year pro Joejuan Williams likely would be next in line to replace Mills if the latter is unavailable Saturday night. Williams played sparingly during the second half of the regular season, sitting out three consecutive games as a healthy scratch before returning to action in Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Rookie Shaun Wade would be another option to fill Mills’ spot, but he also is on the COVID list, having been placed there Monday. Practice squad cornerback D’Angelo Ross has seen increased playing time in recent weeks, but he’s more of a slot/safety hybrid. Ace gunner Justin Bethel rarely plays outside of special teams.

In other roster moves Tuesday, the Patriots activated Myles Bryant off COVID reserve and signed cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc to their practice squad. Bryant, their top slot cornerback, missed the Dolphins loss following a positive test.

LeBlanc, who initially signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2016 but failed to make the team, does have substatial NFL experience. The 27-year-old has appeared in 52 career games, mostly with the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. He spent most of the season with the Houston Texans.

The Patriots also have cornerbacks De’Vante Bausby and D.J. Daniel on their practice squad.

This is a bad week for New England to be shorthanded in the secondary. Buffalo boasts a potent passing attack and a deep receiving corps featuring Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley, Davis and Isaiah McKenzie, who torched Bryant when the Bills won at Gillette Stadium in Week 16.

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