The Patriots defense received a huge boost Saturday when a league source confirmed two of the club’s top defensive performers were among a group who cleared COVID-19 protocols and were activated in time for Sunday’s game against the Jaguars.
Linebackers Matthew Judon, who leads the team with 12½ sacks, and Ja’Whaun Bentley, the club’s top tackler with 87, who had been out since testing positive early last week are now in the clear.
Linebacker Josh Uche, one of the club’s top reserves; Brandon King, who is second on the team with 10 special teams tackles; and quarterback Brian Hoyer also were activated off the virus list.
In addition, fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who missed Friday’s practice with a knee issue, also is good to go against Jacksonville, the source said.
It’s the second straight Saturday that New England is getting back a standout performer who missed a week of practice while in quarantine. Receiver Kendrick Bourne returned in time to play against the Bills.
Reserve offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste is the only Patriot remaining on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
New England (9-6) is looking to get back on track after dropping consecutive games to the Colts and Bills, and having a full complement on defense certainly helps against the 2-13 Jaguars.
“Enough talk — it’s time to work and it’s always been time to work, but there’s no more of the little cliché lines and all that stuff,” Hightower said last week. “Now it’s really just about time to work. These last two games mean a lot to us, and we worked really hard and let some games slip from our hands but hopefully, we learn from that and we’ll get things going this week.”
The Patriots can clinch a playoff berth with a win and a loss by either Miami (at Tennessee) or Las Vegas (at Indianapolis).
Phillips, Patriots come to long-term agreement
The Patriots locked up safety Adrian Phillips with a three-year extension, a league source confirmed. Phillips, the team’s third-leading tackler with 70, gets $7.25 million guaranteed on the deal, which has a maximum value of $14.25 million.
Phillips’s versatility has made him a perfect fit in New England’s varied schemes. He can play close to the line as a hybrid linebacker and also possesses solid coverage skills.
Phillips has helped fill the void created when Patrick Chung opted out in 2020 and then retired before this season. An eight-year veteran, Phillips assumed a leadership role on the club almost immediately and meshes well with fellow safeties Devin McCourty and Kyle Dugger. Bill Belichick compared Phillips to Chung in November, saying “he almost always does the right thing.”
“You see players with great instincts, which Adrian has, both in the running game and passing game,” the coach said. “He’s got excellent hands, too. If you look at some of the interceptions he has made for us and in his career, those are really good catches that a lot of defensive players might not be able to make.”
Phillips missed Friday’s practice with the combination of an illness and knee injury. He is listed as questionable for Sunday.
The Patriots elevated defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale, cornerback D’Angelo Ross, and receiver Kristian Wilkerson to the active roster for Sunday. It’s the sixth elevation for Ekuale, who has five tackles and two sacks. It’s the third promotion for Wilkerson and the second for Ross . . . Linebacker Harvey Langi will revert to season-ending injured reserve after his 21-day window to be activated expired. Langi suffered a knee injury in October and returned to practice in early December . . . Right tackle Trent Brown and center David Andrews each was fined $10,300 for their unsportsmanlike penalties against the Bills. Brown was flagged for chirping after officials reversed course on a late hit penalty on Mac Jones; Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes was not fined. Andrews’s infraction came for chirping after Buffalo’s Matt Milano was not flagged for driving Jones’s head to the turf. Milano also was not fined . . . Buffalo defensive end Efe Obada was fined $6,944 for his hit to Jones’s head . . . Overall, the Patriots are 11-2 against the Jaguars, including an 8-0 mark in home games . . . Jacksonville rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick, has thrown nine touchdown passes, but just one since Halloween. Jones has 18.