The Buffalo Bills announced on Saturday that they signed WR John Brown to their practice squad. Brown is back for his second stint in Buffalo, as he played for the Bills in 2019 and 2020 and played a key role in QB Josh Allen’s development.
Now, he is back for another reason. The Buffalo Bills currently have just four healthy wide receivers on their active roster (Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, and Khalil Shakir). Meanwhile, Jamison Crowder, Jake Kumerow and Marquez Stevenson are all on IR. (Stevenson’s 21-day window to return has opened, however.) Brown joins WRs Tanner Gentry, KeeSean Johnson, and Isaiah Coulter on the practice squad.
Brown, aka “Smoke,” bounced around last year after getting released from the Bills following the 2020 season. He spent time in Las Vegas, Denver, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay in 2021, playing in four games for the Jaguars. However, he did not catch any passes, so the 32-year old returns to Buffalo with the same career stats as when he left (320 receptions, 4,748 yards, and 31 TDs).
Brown caught 72 passes for 1,060 yards and 6 TDs in 15 games in 2019, but then only put up 458 yards and 3 TDs on 36 receptions in nine games in 2020. The 5’11” receiver was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round (91st overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft; he was the 15th receiver taken off the board. Looking back at that draft is definitely eye-opening to say the least, especially considering the first WR selected… and the fifth one for that matter…
What Was Said
The Bills held several press conferences on Sunday, including Brown himself, who is very happy to be back in Buffalo.
“When I got here, it felt like home. When they were picking me up from the airport, I thought I was going back to my house. So, it’s already home for me.”Brown on being back in Buffalo
As a follow-up to that statement, Brown was asked what makes Buffalo feel like home.
”Just the way you’re treated, the way the organization treats you, the fans, and just the whole town of Buffalo, they treat us with a whole bunch of respect and you don’t find many places like that.”Brown on what makes Buffalo so special
Brown must not be the only player who thinks that, because he is now the SIXTH former player to rejoin the team this season… And that’s not even counting all of the guys who have been on and off the practice squad.
Brown said that he stayed in contact with WRs coach Chad Hall and watched every single Bills game since his departure, but noted that there’s a big difference now from when we saw him last.
”I feel like my game is way better. I’m to the point where I’m healthy now… I dealt with a lot of injuries, so I had a whole bunch of time to heal up and get my mind and my body right.”Brown on being healthy now
Smoke is happy to be catching passes from Josh Allen once again. The feeling seems to be mutual.
“It’s good to see Smoke back, good to have him back. We love him in this locker room and we’ve missed him in the last year… it’s a guy that I trust, have a lot of familiarity with, [and] a guy that I can rely on.”Allen on getting Brown back
Allen went on to say that Brown was one of the first guys to show him how to work in this league.
“I believe he was my first 1,000-yard receiver… He practices extremely hard, he always has a good attitude about him, he’s always about the team… you love when you are able to bring guys back like that.”Allen on what Brown meant to him
Stefon Diggs, a WR who has now put up three straight 1,000-yard seasons, is also excited to have John Brown back in the fold.
“The band’s almost back together I heard… it was so nice to see him, Smoke’s my guy… I saw him out there running around, he looks smooth, looks good, looks like the old Smoke. So I look forward to him being out there real soon and getting active.”Diggs on getting Brown back
Not only is John Brown back and looking good but, ironically enough, it’s also Patriots week.
That was in 2019, when Brown made CB Stephon Gilmore burnt toast. Diggs did all of the burning in 2020; he caught 15 passes for 237 yards and 3 TDs in two games versus New England. However, the last time the Buffalo Bills played at Gillette Stadium, it was Isaiah McKenzie who went off while filling in for Cole Beasley. McKenzie caught a career high 11 passes for 125 yards and a TD as the Bills beat the Patriots, 33-21.
McKenzie had another great game this past Thursday in Detroit, leading the Bills with six receptions for 96 yards and a TD to help take down the Lions, 28-25. The former fifth-round pick of the Denver Broncos said that that was the game he had been waiting for.
“I’ve been wanting it for a while. I just had to wait my turn and it came. I took advantage of my opportunities when they came… and, going into this game, just give me some confidence and help the team win.”McKenzie on his breakout performance
So, who is going to step up for the Bills this week in New England? The last time these two teams met, the Bills won in historic fashion, never punting and scoring a touchdown on every single drive. They throttled the Patriots in the first round of the AFC Playoffs by a final score of 47-17.
Josh Allen completed 21 of 25 pass attempts for 308 yards and 5 TDs, almost recording a perfect passer rating of 157.6. TE Dawson Knox was the leading receiver, as he hauled in 5 passes for 89 yards and 2 TDs. RB Devin Singletary was the leading rusher, as he had 16 carries for 81 yards and 2 TDs. Allen also chipped in with 66 rushing yards on six carries, and broke CB De’Vante Bausby’s ankles in the process.
However, like Allen always says, nothing that happened last year transfers over to this year. It’s a brand new season. New England comes into this game with a 6-5 record following a tough loss to the Vikings on Thanksgiving night. They currently have the fifth-best total defense in the league, giving up just 307.8 yards/game. They have the ninth-best pass (198.5 yards/game) and run defense (109.5 yards/game), and are giving up the sixth-fewest points/game (18.4).
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott said multiple times at his Sunday press conference that they have a very good defense.
“Very good defense, much like Coach Belichick has groomed there for years. Very good defense. They’re stout in stopping the run, they do a lot of things in the back end in the various and multiple ways they play man coverage, and they’ve got a really good secondary.”McDermott on the Patriots defense
To McDermott’s point, the Patriots are second in the league with 37 sacks and tied for third with 12 INTs.
Josh Allen expanded on what they do so well as a defense and how to combat it.
“You have to be very good post snap; understanding what their safeties are doing, what their corners are doing, where their eyes are at, where their leverage is at… Most teams, you can see pre snap and you have a good idea of what’s gonna happen… not with these guys. They do such a good job of moving and showing one way and bringing it the other. So again, trusting eyes, trusting reads when it’s not there, finding check downs, and playing smart football.”Allen on what makes the Patriots’ defense so tough
Although Allen and the Bills’ wide receivers have cooked against the Patriots over the last three years, you always have to be careful with a stingy defense like this. That’s why it’s important that guys other than Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis are ready to step up, guys such as Isaiah McKenzie, Dawson Knox, and RB James Cook. It could also be a week where we start to see a mixture of different plays and packages. Perhaps we see more of WR Khalil Shakir, TE Quintin Morris, RB Nyheim Hines, and FB Reggie Gilliam? And, with only a few days of practice and shaking the rust off, could we see John Brown elevated as the fifth wide receiver?
Bills Injury Report
Alright, now for the injury report… DE Von Miller has already been declared out for this week after suffering a lateral meniscus tear last Thursday. The plan is to let the swelling go down, and then re-evaluate whether or not he should get surgery or push through the rest of the season during the Bills’ mini-bye.
So, what about the other pass rushers? DE Greg Rousseau returned to practice yesterday in some capacity, as did LB Tremaine Edmunds. However, DE A.J. Epenesa remains out with a left ankle injury.
As for the offensive line, LT Dion Dawkins was also out with an ankle injury, to which McDermott said they’re taking it “one day at a time”. On the bright side, C Mitch Morse and OG Ike Boettger returned to practice. Boettger is working back from a torn Achilles last year (ironically enough in New England). This will start Boettger’s 21-day window to return from the PUP list.
Lastly, another bug swept across the Bills locker room. DB Siran Neal, S Jordan Poyer, S Jaquan Johnson, CB Dane Jackson, LB Tyler Matakevich, RB Nyheim Hines, WR Khalil Shakir, and TE Quintin Morris were all held out of practice Sunday due to an illness.
We’ll learn more as the week progresses and await the official injury report ahead of Thursday night’s big matchup.
UPDATE: Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, Tremaine Edmunds, and Mitch Morse were all FULL participants at practice today, as well as Josh Allen.
*All player quotes come from the Sunday press conferences (via the Buffalo Bills YouTube channel).
Featured Image: Billie Weiss/Getty Images