FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — As excited as Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan was about his team’s 16-0 win over the Patriots earlier this month — his first in Foxborough in eight tries — he was quick to acknowledge it came with an asterisk.
“It’s satisfying. But let’s face it: They had a player out,” Ryan said at the time.
That player, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, is back for Round 2 as New England (6-1) looks to get even for the lone blemish on its record this season.
The Patriots enter the week playing well three weeks after coach Bill Belichick described a performance against the Bills in which he said the team failed in all three phases of the game.
The offense is thriving with Brady back, outscoring opponents 95-46 over the past three games. New England is also the only team in the NFL not to throw an interception this season and has a league-best 115.9 passer rating.
The defense is healthy as it’s been in weeks as well. In addition, it will have defensive end Rob Ninkovich on the field after he missed the first meeting with Buffalo while serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Ninkovich’s presence should be helpful as the Patriots look to contain Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor better than they did at home.
Taylor made plays with both his arm and feet in the first win, finishing with 246 yards passing and a touchdown.
Reducing his effectiveness is a priority.
“He’s very explosive,” Ninkovich said. “He can still get a ball 60 yards down the field as he’s running out of the pocket, so you really have to do a good job keeping him in the pocket.”
Probably the only negative development since Brady’s return has been on special teams with Stephen Gostkowski.
The Patriots kicker, who entered the season having not missed an extra point since his rookie year in 2006, has missed two in the past two games. He’s also just 9 for 12 (75 percent) on field goals, which is below the career-low 77 percent he kicked in both 2010 and 2006.
Though Gostkowski was especially hard on himself after his performance against the Steelers, Belichick lauded the work his kicker puts in weekly, adding “we’ll work through it.”
He also dismissed the idea that Goskowski’s recent woes could be related to the different types of techniques he’s being asked to employ on kickoffs this year. Belichick likened it to the multiple kinds of shots a golfer has to have in their repertoire.
“You’ve got to be able to hit a sand wedge, you’ve got to be able to hit a 5-iron, you’ve got to be able to drive, you’ve got to be able to putt,” Belichick said. “That’s what kickers and punters do.”
Special teams captain Matt Slater said Gostkowski has nothing but support among his teammates.
“We’re just gonna be as positive as we can be with Stephen,” Slater said. “You don’t want to say too much, but you also want to let him know that we continue to have faith in him. We continue to believe in his ability to perform, and that we wouldn’t trade him for anyone.”
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