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Joejuan Williams had every right to be nervous.
The Patriots rookie cornerback was pressed into extra service in Saturday’s 24-17 win over the Bills. Williams played a career-high 29 snaps after Jason McCourty aggravated a groin injury in the first quarter.
Williams played a lot in the preseason and hasn’t missed a practice, so he believed he was prepared for when his opportunity would come.
“I was pretty calm. I was pretty confident,’’ said Williams. “The guys believed in me, so that’s all I really needed.’’
Williams was on the field when the Patriots made their final stand and said the entire defense exuded a quiet confidence despite the frenzied nature of the finish.
“At the end of the day you just have to sit back and rely on your technique,’’ he said. “In the fog of war, it’s easy to lose focus. But if you can stay focused in the game, you’ll be straight.’’
Williams said the defense takes its cues from Bill Belichick, who stresses calmness in all situations.
The coach believed Williams would be ready to go if called upon.
“I think he had a good week of preparation and had an opportunity to play,’’ Belichick said Sunday. “There were some good things; there were some other things that could be improved – like everybody.’’
Rex Burkhead shook off an early fumble Saturday and put together a nice day, accounting for 97 yards from scrimmage as well as some sterling blocking and special teams play.
Burkhead’s signature play was a tough, 1-yard touchdown run in which Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander landed a clean shot but couldn’t dent the Patriots back.
“He was kind of going sideways a little bit when he got hit there,’’ said Belichick. “I thought he did a really good job of dropping his pads and playing through the contact, keeping his balance and running into the end zone. That was an excellent run.’’
Belichick noted it was the second straight strong game for Burkhead, who had a touchdown run against the Bengals in Week 15.
“I know he felt bad about the [fumble on] the screen pass at the start of the game, but Rex is a tough competitor and he blocked well, ran well, he caught the ball well, he played well for us in the kicking game,’’ said Belichick.’’
Van Noy over it
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy said the defense did not have extra motivation after several Patriots were overlooked in last week’s Pro Bowl voting. Dont’a Hightower and Stephon Gilmore earned berths, though strong cases could be made for Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Devin McCourty. “That day when I found out I was disappointed, but I got over it the next day,’’ said Van Noy. “It is what it is. But I’m more focused on winning because at the end of the day, that’s what matters.’’ . . . New England’s 2020 opponents were finalized after the Texans clinched the AFC South. In addition to their AFC East foes, the Patriots will play at Seattle, Kansas City, Houston, and Los Angeles twice (Rams and Chargers). New England will host the Cardinals, 49ers, Raiders, Broncos, and Ravens.