Patriots safety Kyle Dugger did not practice Saturday, which means his availability for Monday night’s matchup against the Bills remains in jeopardy.
Dugger has not practiced all week because he tested positive for COVID-19. If Dugger is vaccinated and asymptomatic, he would need two negative tests at least 24 hours apart in order to be activated. The Patriots depart for Buffalo on Sunday.
If Dugger is unvaccinated, then he will not be able to play because unvaccinated players must be sidelined for at least 10 days. Dugger was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Dec. 1, which means, if unvaccinated, the earliest he can return is Dec. 10. New England’s bye week begins following Monday night’s game.
Should Dugger be unavailable, the Patriots will be without a key member of their secondary. Through 12 games, Dugger has played 81.3 percent of the defense’s snaps. He ranks first on the team in tackles (80) and also has three interceptions.
Second-year defensive back Myles Bryant is a candidate to earn more reps in Dugger’s absence. Bryant was signed to the active roster from the practice squad in October.
“It’s just making sure the next guy is prepared, whoever that may be, to fill in that role,” Bryant said Thursday. “In case Kyle’s not able to make it, we have the next man up.”
Running back J.J. Taylor also remains on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Taylor has been a healthy scratch the past two weeks.
The Patriots have eight other players listed as questionable for Monday’s game: center David Andrews (shoulder), defensive tackle Christian Barmore (knee), linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (ribs), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), right tackle Trent Brown (calf/wrist), kicker Nick Folk (left knee), punt returner Gunner Olszewski (ankle), and linebacker Ronnie Perkins (illness). All were limited in practice on Saturday.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (ankle) was removed from the injury report after practicing in a limited capacity Thursday and Friday.
The Bills, meanwhile, have just three players considered questionable — offensive lineman Cody Ford (bicep), fullback Reggie Gilliam (ankle), and defensive end Efe Obada (hip).
J.C. Jackson looks forward to Stephon Diggs matchup
Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson is well aware of the threat Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs poses.
“Everybody knows Diggs, man,” Jackson said Friday. “Diggs is one of the best receivers in the game, one of the tougher matchups I’ve been against since I’ve been in the league. I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready to compete. We’ll see Monday night.”
In his first year with the Bills last season, Diggs put up big numbers against the Patriots: six receptions for 92 yards in a 24-21 win in November, and then nine receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-9 blowout in December.
After the second game, Jackson said he “could have had tighter coverage.”
“I learned from it that each play, you can’t take any reps off,” Jackson said at the time. “You can’t fall asleep. You’ve got to be alert and ready every play when you’re playing a receiver like that.”
Monday will be the first time Jackson gets another shot at containing Diggs, who leads the Bills with 67 catches for 847 yards on the season.
Jackson believes he has since “brought [his] performance up a notch,” thanks to more time spent studying, watching film, and logging extra reps before practice. He certainly has been on a bit of a hot streak. Since Week 9, according to Pro Football Focus, Jackson has intercepted four passes and allowed just four catches for 19 yards.
Diggs has taken note.
“He gets his hand on the ball,” Diggs said. “You got a lot of DBs in the league that will be around the plays. He’s getting his hands on the ball. He’s active, kind of like my little brother [Trevon Diggs]. They’re like ballhawks. If the ball’s around, they’re gonna grab it.”
Hunter Henry’s newborn will come first
Tight end Hunter Henry and his wife Parker are expecting their first child this month, with the due date set for Dec. 27. If the birth overlaps with a game — the Patriots play the Colts in Indianapolis on Dec. 18 and host the Bills on Dec. 26 — Henry confirmed he will skip the game. Said Henry: “That’s a tough conversation. This is my first. If it had to be a game or seeing my firstborn, I’m going to go see my child be born. I’m doing my best, and we’re going to do our best to not have that come across” . . . Running back Damien Harris and quarterback Mac Jones spent part of their Thursday evening taking in the MIAA’s Division 1 Super Bowl between Springfield Central and Central Catholic. Said Harris: “It was great being out there, watching these kids do what they love. We’ve all been there. Seeing those kids go out there and play for something special, I mean, we all know football’s the greatest sport in the world” . . . The Patriots are riding a franchise record of four straight second-half shutouts.
Nicole Yang can be reached at email@example.com.