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Mike Onwenu’s presence made a big statement in Patriots’ win over Bills

Mike Onwenu helped the Patriots run for 220 yards in their win over the Bills.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH — The words hurt the ears of every Bills fan from North Tonawanda to North Collins and all points in between.

They stung way worse than Monday night’s biting cold winds that caused teeth to chatter and dreams of their team taking over the top spot in the AFC East to shatter.

And they came courtesy of referee Bill Vinovich. And they came over and over.

“No. 71 is reporting as eligible,’’ Vinovich repeated over the PA system — 31 times in all — signaling that Mike Onwenu was entering the game as a Patriots extra lineman.

Onwenu, known affectionately as “Big Mike” to his teammates, excelled as the jumbo tight end and helped New England rush for 222 yards in its 14-10 win over Buffalo.


The 6-foot-3-inch, 350-pound Onwenu would race in from the sideline with right hand up and his left hand swiping up and down on his chest to let Vinovich know the deal. Failure to do so would result in a penalty.

“That’s the first thing I do. That’s my first thought,’’ Onwenu said Wednesday as he prepared for the bye week.

Onwenu said Vinovich would give him a knowing look as he approached the huddle.

“Yeah, he did, but it’s still my job to tell him I’m here and I’m reporting, so I always try to get in their face a little bit to make sure they know,’’ he said.

Mike Onwenu has had a multitude of responsibilities for the Patriots in his year-plus in the NFL.Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

Onwenu also consistently got in the Bills’ faces, mauling defenders to give Damien Harris (111 yards rushing), Rhamondre Stevenson (78), and Brandon Bolden (28) room to roam.

He’s played every spot on the offensive line except center during his two seasons in New England and Onwenu indicated the jumbo tight end role isn’t a hard adjustment, it’s just sticking to the fundamentals and techniques employed while playing tackle.


Mac Jones praised the offensive line following the game and had even more adulation after watching the game film.

“You just appreciate what those guys do and how we won the game. That’s the most important thing, regardless of how you do it, whether you throw it, run it, whatever the situation is. They did their part,’’ the rookie quarterback said Wednesday.

“Someone that I did leave out is [fullback] Jakob [Johnson]. I think he deserves a lot of credit too, just the way he stuck his nose in there, and Big Mike, too, for coming in as a jumbo guy, along with the five offensive linemen. Obviously, the running backs and receivers did their thing, but everyone that was involved in blocking deserves credit.’’

Onwenu, who started the season as Joe Thuney’s successor at left guard before moving over to right tackle when Trent Brown hurt his calf, embraces his role as the line’s top sub at multiple spots.

Mike Onwenu played a key role in Monday's win.Mitchell Leff/Getty

“It’s good. Whatever I can do to help the team, that’s really the end goal. The more I can do, it makes me happy,’’ he said.

Onwenu said he and some of his younger teammates in the offensive line room are still absorbing knowledge from the veterans.

“We have a great group. We have loads of experience,’’ he said. “We’re all learning a lot throughout the week going through practice.’’

Jones: Slater ‘the model Patriot’

Devin McCourty was referred to as “the old guy.’’ Matthew Slater was called “the even older guy.’’


The descriptions came from Jones, asked to play a game of word association during a recent segment on the team’s website. On Wednesday, Slater was given a chance to turn the tables on Jones during his time with reporters.

“Special,’’ Slater called his young teammate. “Special kid.’’

Jones clearly feels the same way about Slater and some of the other veteran leaders on the club, including McCourty and Dont’a Hightower.

“I think they’re all great guys and to be in the room with them — with a guy like Matt who has seen a lot of different, not only football schemes, teams in many years, he just has great knowledge about leadership,’’ he said. “He’s one of the best public speakers I’ve ever been around, so just taking notes there, and obviously he backs up everything he says with his work ethic and the type of person he is. He’s the model Patriot and someone that I look up to, and a lot of guys on our team do that are younger players — and even the older guys.”

Checking the stats

Jones enters the bye week third in the NFL in completion percentage (70.3) and 10th in completions (270) . . . Harris is fifth in rushing touchdowns (9) . . . Hunter Henry is tied for eight in receiving TDs (7) . . . J.C. Jackson is first in passes defensed (17) and second in interceptions (7) . . . Matthew Judon is third in sacks (12½) . . . Nick Folk is first in points (128) and field goals (33) . . . Andre Tippett, already a member of the Pro Football, Patriots, and Iowa halls of fame, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Las Vegas on Tuesday. An All-American defensive end for the Hawkeyes, he still holds the school record for tackles for a loss in a season with 20 in 1980.


Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.