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Patriots are prepared for the unpredictable

Joe Webb, the Bills’ third-string QB and a Wildcat threat, nearly burned the Patriots for a big play on Dec. 3.Rich Barnes/AP/File

FOXBOROUGH — The last time the Patriots played the Bills, on Dec. 3, Joe Webb nearly gave Buffalo the lead in the second quarter, but he overthrew Travaris Cadet, who was wide open inside the New England 10-yard line.

Webb, a Wildcat formation specialist, had rushed three times in the game for 27 yards. It was surprising to see Webb, a wide receiver and quarterback in college, not only attempt a long pass, but nearly connect on it.

Should the Bills get creative again Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots will be ready. The difference between Webb and most other players in the Wildcat formation is Webb has played quarterback in the NFL (159 career pass attempts). Webb played 28 snaps during an overtime victory over the Colts on Dec. 10, when the Bills were without Tyrod Taylor and Nathan Peterman because of injury.


Patriots safety Duron Harmon said the team wasn’t surprised when Webb attempted the pass, but added that poor execution resulted in the receiver being open.

“We didn’t play our coverage with good technique,” Harmon said Thursday. “We didn’t play with good fundamentals and created a hole in the defense. I wouldn’t say it caught us off guard, but we didn’t play the call the way we should have.

“[Webb] can make throws. Has a strong arm. He’s athletic. So, you have to treat him more so as a quarterback than an actual Wildcat quarterback. He can probably make a lot of throws that a lot of other Wildcat quarterbacks can’t make. We’ve just got to be aware where everyone is at, where [Taylor] is at when [Webb] goes to quarterback, and play good fundamental football.”

There’s very little that the Patriots coaching staff does not prepare for.

Consider the end of last Sunday’s 27-24 victory over the Steelers that ended with a Patriots interception in the end zone.


Pittsburgh scrambled on its final play, Ben Roethlisberger faked a spike, and then jammed a pass into tight coverage.

That type of attention to detail likely will pay dividends Sunday, even if the Patriots see just one snap from the Wildcat formation.

“Our coaching staff does a great job preparing us for every situation, whether it’s two-minute, trick plays,” Harmon said. “I’m telling you, we’ve gone back 10 years before sometimes with an [opposing] offensive coordinator and a trick play he ran. Our coaching staff does a great job preparing us for each and every situation so we can go out with the utmost confidence and comfort level to play as fast as we can.”

Not making a splash

At the end of Sunday’s win in Pittsburgh, Patriots center David Andrews was jogging off the field and toward the tunnel when he was hit by a drink thrown from the stands.

The drink hit Andrews squarely on the shoulder, but he kept running to the tunnel. Photographer Brian Kunst captured the moment and tweeted the picture Thursday.

“Man, that doesn’t bother me after a win,” Andrews said. “I was giving a glove to a kid [in the stands], so it doesn’t bother me. I mean, I’m not really focused on it that much. To me, that’s just part of being an athlete. There are times it’s up and down, and you can’t retaliate. Sometimes you’re not going to like something in a game and you can’t retaliate, hurt your team or hurt yourself. Just another distraction that doesn’t really matter.”

On Dec. 10, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Quinton Jefferson had multiple items thrown at him while he exited the field at Jacksonville after he was ejected for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The situation got tense when a bottle hit Jefferson and he tried to climb into the stands before being restrained by security.

Sitting again

Defensive tackle Alan Branch and running back Rex Burkhead were the only absences at Patriots practice Thursday.


Both are recovering from knee injuries and also missed Wednesday’s practice.

Branch was injured against the Dolphins two weeks ago, while Burkhead was hurt last Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Steelers. It seems unlikely either will play Sunday against the Bills, though both players are expected back during the playoffs.

All other players were present at the workout, held outdoors as usual on a crisp day. Running back James White, who was added to the injury report this week with an ankle injury, remained limited in practice.

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Nora Princiotti of the Globe staff contributed to this report.