FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots could be without their leading tackler for Monday night’s showdown with the Bills after safety Kyle Dugger was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list following a positive test result. He is the second Patriot to be placed on the list this week following running back J.J. Taylor on Monday.
According to NFL protocols, if Dugger is vaccinated and asymptomatic, he could come off the list if he returns two negative tests 24 hours apart. That leaves open the possibility he could play Monday night.
However, if Dugger, who missed Wednesday’s practice, is not vaccinated, he will need to be away from the facility for a minimum of 10 days.
Dugger, who has 75 tackles and three interceptions, has played an integral part in the defense’s resurgence this season while also being a core special-teamer. He has played more than 80 percent of the defensive snaps at strong safety, free safety, slot corner, and linebacker in 2021.
If Dugger can play, he likely would draw the assignment of shadowing Bills tight end Dawson Knox, who has seven touchdowns this season.
Allen difficult to defend
Bill Belichick raised his arm as if to mimic a jet taking off while emphasizing a point Tuesday.
The coach was referring to the rise of a Bill, however.
Asked about Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, Belichick couldn’t hide his admiration for the fourth-year player, who went from first-round afterthought as a rookie to MVP candidate.
“His improvement has just been tremendous. Where it was three years ago, completion percentage, passer rating, decision making, production, it has just gone [up],” Belichick said. “It’s risen at a really remarkable rate. It’s just remarkable how good he has become.”
Since his nightmare rookie season, when he went 5-6 and completed just 53 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, Allen has transformed into a terror.
In the two-plus seasons since, Allen has led the Bills to a 30-13 record — including an AFC East title in 2020 — and thrown for 82 touchdowns against 29 interceptions. In addition, the 6-foot-5-inch, 237-pounder has rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in his career.
“He always had confidence, but he’s taken it to another level,” Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “He’s a game-changer now.”
Some would point to the arrival of Stephon Diggs as a key point in Allen’s ascension to elite status, but Belichick pointed to a bevy of reasons.
“Last year, this year, he’s built on that, [from] what it was when he came into the league, but he’s really made tremendous improvement and has a lot of command of the offense,” Belichick said. “They audible a lot. They change things. They obviously have a lot of confidence in him. He handles them well on the line. Every [once in a while] they’ll run a bad where they run into a bad look or a blitz or something like that, [but] he doesn’t get fooled much by anything. It’s really, really impressive to watch how he’s developed there.”
Patriots safety Devin McCourty said, however, there were clues that Allen would become an MVP-caliber player even during his rocky rookie campaign.
“I think any young player that comes in the league, we try to tear them apart — with everything they don’t do well,” said McCourty. “But I think it was obvious when Josh Allen came in the league how talented he was and the different things that he does well on the field. I think he’s doing that at a high level right now … Obviously there’s a lot of pressure when you come in and you start right away as a quarterback. But I think with him, it’s the decision-making is at an all-time high and I think now it allows him to just be out there and be creative with all the things he does well.”
Allen’s dual-threat ability creates conundrums, according to McCourty.
“The different times they come out in certain situations, and they go with a quarterback run and now you’ve got to tackle him, the times that they don’t call it, but you don’t contain the quarterback and he gets outside of the pocket, ‘Is he going to launch it 65 yards or is he going to keep it?’ That’s a problem,” said McCourty.
Collins at practice
There was some positive news on the personnel front, as linebacker Jamie Collins, who has missed the last three weeks with an ankle problem, returned to practice. He can be activated at any time. McCourty said he teased Collins about his “three-week vacation” and said, “He should have fresh legs out there.” … The Patriots released rookie kicker Quinn Nordin, who recently returned to practice after starting the season on injured reserve. If he goes unclaimed, he could land on the practice squad … Cornerback BoPete Keyes was cut after one day on the practice squad … Looking ahead: There’s still an 80 percent chance of snow in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Monday but with daytime highs in the mid 40s, the flurries could come just in time for kickoff.