Four catches for 36 yards hardly represents a great performance for a receiver. But for a tight end in the Buffalo Bills' offense, it qualifies as a banner day.
Royal was signed last offseason because of his blocking, but on Sunday he finally got a chance to have more than a cameo role as a receiver.
"It was just one of those days where [offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild] just so happened to call a few plays to me," said Royal, who matched a career single-game high for catches. "The defense allowed me to get open and I was able to go down there and make some plays."
Royal's most impressive catch was a 21-yard completion as he took advantage of a soft spot in the Patriots' Cover 2 scheme.
"It's one of those things where it rarely happens against New England to be able to make plays in the middle of the field," he said. "On that particular play, they gave me that Cover 2. The linebacker stayed flat and I was able to get out there and catch it."
The downside for the Bills was they didn't capitalize on Royal's catches. Two of his receptions were followed by turnovers.
"I was able to get open and make a few plays, but obviously not enough plays to make us win this ballgame," he said.
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When rookie Aaron Merz learned Saturday he would be making his first NFL start, he admitted being nervous. For about an hour.
"My stomach knotted up a little bit, and then I got back in my playbook and just reminded myself that this is my job," said Merz, who replaced injured Tutan Reyes at left guard.
Merz had an idea he might get the call when he got all the snaps with the starting offense last week.
Duke Preston usually is the top backup at guard, but he had to work exclusively last week at center because starter Melvin Fowler was nursing a sore quadriceps.
Merz struggled at times, but he also did some good things. He made a key block to open a hole for running back Willis McGahee's 56-yard run after catching a shovel pass.
"Yeah, that felt good blocking someone like [Rodney] Harrison and springing a big one," said Merz, the second of the Bills' two seventh-round draft picks. "That was a good play, we knew it was going to be a good play and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to make the block and I did."
Merz had an up-and-down NFL debut, but gained some much-needed experience.
"I'm a lot better now than I was at the start of the day I think, and I'm confident I can do this as my job for the next hopefully five to 10 years," he said. "Not the result or memory that I wanted to have in my first start, but hopefully I did as much as they expected or more and they will give me another shot down the road."
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Defensive end Ryan Denney and wide receiver Sam Aiken left the game early with hamstring injuries. Neither player returned. Cornerback Jabari Greer had some kind of leg injury in the fourth quarter, but the severity wasn't disclosed after the game.
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Defensive end Chris Kelsay committed a costly 15-yard personal foul penalty on third down when he hit quarterback Tom Brady when Brady was on the ground. The Patriots scored a touchdown on the next play.
"As a defensive player, you're just pursuing and trying to get him down at all costs," Kelsay said. "[Brady] ended up sliding down and when I came in I didn't know he'd been touched. I didn't hear a whistle.
"It was late. I don't think it was violent. I don't think it was with the intention of hurting him or being flagrant."
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Defensive end Aaron Schobel had two sacks Sunday. His 10 1/2 against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady are the most by any player in the league. . . . Defensive end Anthony Hargrove had a solo tackle and one assist in his Bills debut.
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Reyes was joined on the inactive list by Ashton Youboty, Shaud Williams, Matt Bowen, Brad Butler, Eric Powell and Jason Jefferson.