Kyle Orton has been in the NFL for 10 seasons, and has played for five franchises, including Buffalo this year. But the veteran quarterback has only one game against the Patriots among the 76 in which he’s appeared over his career.
Barring something unexpected, Sunday will be just the second time Orton faces the Patriots, who travel to Buffalo for a first-place AFC East showdown against the Bills (speaking of unexpected). Orton took over for second-year quarterback EJ Manuel last week, and led the Bills to a 17-14 win at Detroit, a game in which Orton threw for 308 yards on 30-for-43 passing, with one touchdown and one interception.
Now the Patriots will get their first look at Orton since Oct. 11, 2009, when he led the Broncos to a 20-17 overtime win in Denver. In that game, Orton threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns, both to Brandon Marshall.
Since being drafted in the fourth round out of Purdue, Orton has played for the Bears (2005-08), Broncos (2009-11), Chiefs (2011), and Cowboys (2012-13) before landing in Buffalo.
“Orton hasn’t really played a lot of football recently until last weekend, but we have a lot of respect for what he’s done in the past, and I’m sure that if he wasn’t capable of doing all the things we’ve seen him do in the past, [Bills] coach [Doug] Marrone wouldn’t have put him in there, and he wouldn’t have been as successful as he was,” said Bill Belichick, speaking Tuesday on the weekly coaches’ teleconference.
“We’re preparing for Orton as we’ve seen Orton in the past, even though we only have the one game with Buffalo to go on last week, but his tendencies and his skill sets, we certainly respect those.
“He’s obviously an experienced guy that throws the ball well in all parts of the field — short, intermediate, deep — reads coverages and defenses well, and has a good grasp and experience in the passing game.”
Orton flourished in that 2009 season with the Broncos, who were coached by current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Under McDaniels, Orton set career highs in completions (336), yards (3,802), and touchdowns (21).
Manuel, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2013, led the Bills to a 2-0 start this season, but in Buffalo’s next two games (both losses), he completed 44 of 83 passes for 461 yards, with two interceptions and a lost fumble, prompting Marrone to make the switch.
In announcing the change last Monday, Marrone said, “It’s not all EJ’s fault, but we need to get better production, obviously, out of that position. We have to make adjustments. We’ve got to make some changes, because we can’t keep going in the direction that we’re going.”
Orton is 1-0 as a starting quarterback against the Patriots. The Bills have only one win over the Patriots in their last 21 meetings; since opening the 2003 season with a 31-0 home win over New England, Buffalo is 1-20 against the Patriots, the lone win coming at home, 34-31, on Oct. 25, 2011.
Any chance the Patriots had of sliding Kenbrell Thompkins from the active roster to their practice squad disappeared Monday when the Raiders claimed the second-year receiver off waivers. The move to release Thompkins, announced Saturday, was a surprise to many, considering his contributions as a rookie (32 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns, including a last-second game-winner against the Saints), and having a strong ally in Tom Brady.
Listening to Belichick, Thompkins was simply the odd man out in a numbers game.
“We obviously have a depth issue at linebacker and we’re heavy at receiver, so something has to give,” Belichick said, referring to Dont’a Hightower missing last Sunday’s game with a knee injury, forcing the Patriots to promote linebacker Ja’Gared Davis, who took Thompkins’s spot on the roster.
“It’s always tough to release a player, especially one like KT who works extremely hard and was really a dedicated athlete and certainly had a lot of good moments of performance for us. In the end, in order to get a guy on the roster, you have to take a guy off. It just came down to that decision.
“Oakland will be getting a young, hard-working player. I think KT has a future in the NFL.”
Just another step
Last Sunday night’s 43-17 blowout victory over the undefeated Bengals was a well-timed confidence boost, shot in the arm — whatever cliché you’d like to use
“I don’t really get caught up in a real final evaluation of our team at the end of each week and really get caught up on each week,” said McDaniels. “I’m more focused on trying to make progress, and I thought we showed some improvement the other night and made some strides from previous games.
“That’s really what my focus has been on in my position.”
As for the ESPN report last Sunday that there is “tension” between Brady and the coaching staff, McDaniels said, “Whatever reports are, they are what they are. I don’t know. You have to ask the people that reported that.