The Buffalo Bills on Friday placed wide receiver Sammy Watkins on their injured-reserve list.
Watkins, who sat out last Sunday’s victory against Arizona, had been bothered by lingering issues with his foot since undergoing offseason surgery to repair a stress fracture.
NFL teams are allowed to activate one player from IR after eight weeks.
Earlier in the day, after declaring that Watkins would miss Sunday’s game at New England, Rex Ryan told reporters his understanding is that the issue was more about pain tolerance than the structural soundness of the receiver’s foot.
In two games, Watkins has only six receptions for 63 yards. He hasn’t played since sitting out the final two series of the Bills’ 37-31 loss against the New York Jets on Sept. 15.
Watkins has dealt with numerous injuries since the Bills traded first- and fourth-round draft picks to make the former Clemson star the fourth overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. He was bothered by injured ribs at the start of his rookie season and ended the year by undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip.
Watkins missed three games last season with ankle and calf injuries.
The Bills added wide receiver Justin Hunter to the roster. He has appeared in 36 regular season games for the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans, with 68 receptions, 1,116 yards and eight touchdowns. He was a second-round pick of the Titans out of the University of Tennessee in the 2013 draft.
The Patriots game will mark the fifth time since the start of last season and the second time in as many weeks that Watkins is out of the lineup. With Greg Salas sidelined with a groin injury, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and the rest of the Bills’ healthy receivers fully understand they’re expected to fill the top two spots in the receiving corps and perform well.
“Not at all,” Woods said shortly after Ryan announced that Watkins would not play Sunday. “Sammy’s not there, Sammy’s not there. He’s hurt, he’s down. We’ve still got to make plays that we’re capable of making. We’re able to make these big plays. We’ve just got to out and execute them. Plays are there. Just got to capitalize.”
The Bills will likely try to do what they did in last Sunday’s 33-18 victory against Arizona: plenty of running and spreading the ball around to a variety of receivers in the passing game.
Still, Woods will, again, serve as their No. 1 target while Goodwin likely fills the No. 2 role. Whether that means one or both will be able to frequently connect with quarterback Tyrod Taylor for big plays remains to be seen.
Against the Cardinals, Woods led the Bills with six receptions (on eight targets) for 51 yards, 24 of which came on one play. Goodwin, in his first start of the year and second since joining the Bills in 2013, had only one catch for 6 yards after catching an 84-yard touchdown against the Jets.
Woods and running back LeSean McCoy share the Bills’ lead with 11 receptions. Woods has 81 receiving yards and a 7.4 yards-per-catch average, while Goodwin has three catches for 118 yards.
What do they need to do to make themselves as effective as possible against a Patriots defense that no doubt will concentrate on stuffing the Bills’ run game?
“Just running my routes fast, getting open,” Woods said. “Some plays are created and some plays, they come about. But other than that, I’m still playing my same game, we’re still calling the same plays, and allowing Tyrod to make the right reads.”
“Run fast, run past guys, catch the ball, get open, do our job,” Goodwin said.
Woods doesn’t buy the premise that Taylor, who has struggled with his passing through the Bills’ 1-2 start, is under greater pressure trying to improve what he does from the pocket without Watkins.
As Woods pointed out, Taylor didn’t work with Watkins through the offseason – when the discovery of a stress fracture in Watkins’ foot prompted surgery – and he didn’t work with him through most of training camp and the preseason. Watkins also wasn’t much of a factor in the first two games of the season.
“I think we are capable,” Woods said. “We’ve been working with Tyrod. He’s experienced with all these guys here, so there should be no letdown.”
“No pressure, it’s just football,” Goodwin said. “It’s the same thing we’ve been doing since we were little kids.”
The Patriots’ defense Woods sees while studying video doesn’t look all that different from the ones he has faced since joining the Bills in 2013. Sure, there might be some new faces, but the concepts remain the same.
“They’re still an aggressive defense, aggressive corners, high-energy corners that love making plays, and just experienced,” Woods said.
“Definitely see some places where we have a few advantages against them,” Goodwin said. “So looking forward to the game on Sunday.”