Patriots Notebook

He’s star of action picture

Brace finally gets in, holds his own

By Adam Kilgore and Monique Walker
Globe Staff / December 21, 2009

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - In his first year out of Boston College, Patriots defensive tackle Ron Brace has found the downfall to playing in the same place as a collegian and a professional.

“It does make it a little bit tougher,’’ said Brace, who attended Worcester Burncoat High. “Seeing as how I’m from here, I know a lot more people than some others might know. A lot of people might recognize me. I keep getting asked the same question: ‘Why aren’t you playing?’ ’’

Maybe for one week, they’ll stop asking. With nose tackle Vince Wilfork out with a foot injury yesterday, Brace started and played extensive snaps for the first time this season. Brace had been inactive for seven games, including the last three weeks. The Patriots counted on him in the middle of their defense when facing the Bills.

Next to Brace, Mike Wright moved in for defensive end Ty Warren, who missed the game with an ankle injury. While Wilfork and Warren were not officially ruled out until late Saturday night, the Patriots knew Monday neither would be available, Wright said.

“Even if they were, it wouldn’t have mattered [in terms of preparation],’’ Wright said. “We were ready. Everybody was ready, and we’re always ready.’’

Wright filled in admirably, recording the first of six Patriots sacks, his fifth this year, and five solo tackles.

On the first drive of the game, the Bills ran at Brace, using multiple blockers to move him out of the hole. By the end of the game, Brace made three solo tackles - the first of his career - and assisted on another.

“He held his own,’’ Bills tackle Jonathan Scott said.

Simply playing was gratifying for Brace. Last week, when Wilfork left the game, the Patriots called on Titus Adams, a career practice squad player. Brace leaned on his teammates and his family for support as he struggled with the adjustment. This week, coaches let Brace know he would be relied upon.

“Coming from a year ago, playing every defensive snap, to coming in and not playing is kind of a hard situation for a football player,’’ Brace said. “Everybody told me to keep my head up and just do your job and be ready for whenever they call your number. Football is a game you can’t really predict.’’

Brace had one moment he’d like to have back. In the fourth quarter, he moved in to clean up a sack by Gary Guyton. He grabbed quarterback Trent Edwards’s facemask and twisted it, drawing a 15-yard flag.

Sack it to him
Tully Banta-Cain set a career high with three sacks. All three came in the fourth quarter as he improved his season total to 8 1/2.

He had 5 1/2 with the Patriots in 2006. Banta-Cain had had two sacks in a game twice this season, against Buffalo in the season opener and the Jets in November.

“We were able to mix up the pressures early in the game and we got some success and as the game went on we were able to wear down their protection and it gave me some opportunities for me to get some mismatches on the running back and left tackles and I was able to capitalize,’’ he said.

No doubting Thomas
One week after being made inactive following a tumultuous turn of events, Adalius Thomas returned to the field, starting at outside linebacker. Thomas reiterated that any tension regarding his being sent home for being late to a team meeting last week, and his defiant reaction to it, has vanished.

“That page is turned,’’ Thomas said. “That book is closed. I try to be a professional, whatever I’m asked to do. If it’s to stay at home, I stay at home. If it’s to play, I play.’’

Asked if he had cleared the air with coach Bill Belichick, Thomas simply said, “If it’s done, then it’s done. I’ve let it go.’’ After being inactive last week, there was a school of thought that Thomas might not play again this season, but the linebacker was never worried.

“The cream always rises to the top,’’ Thomas said.

Owens shut down
While it was a day of redemption for Randy Moss, it was a day of frustration for the self-proclaimed Original 81.

Bills receiver Terrell Owens caught two passes for 20 yards, the longest an 11-yard completion in the fourth quarter.

“Again, I’ve had this statement all year,’’ Owens said. “I’m just going with the plays that are called. If I can’t really get the ball in my hands to do anything, what can you do?’’

Owens entered yesterday having caught three touchdowns in his previous four games. For the season, he has 46 catches for 715 yards and four touchdowns. He missed two practices earlier in the week with an illness.

Patriots cornerback Shawn Springs said if Owens was frustrated, it wasn’t evident on the field.

“He was just chillin’. He’s got probably two more weeks in Buffalo. He’s probably happy,’’ said Springs with a chuckle. “He’s got two more weeks in Buffalo, so he can be in Miami [chillin’] somewhere.’’

He’ll go down in history
Wide receiver Wes Welker set a career high for receiving yards in a season. He caught a 5-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the third quarter to pass the 1,175 yards he totaled last season. He had four catches for 40 yards to increase his total to 1,198 this season. It is the fourth most in Patriots history . . . The Patriots’ winning streak against the Bills is now 13 games. It is the sixth straight time the Patriots have swept the series. “Losing one game is tough, but to not be able to beat an opponent for a number of years, it’s tough,’’ Bills wide receiver Lee Evans said. “Like I said, we had some opportunities in this game to do that, but really, no excuses, we just didn’t make enough plays. Penalties set us back and it’s hard to overcome that.’’ . . . In addition to Wilfork and Warren, other Patriots inactives included running back Fred Taylor, cornerback Terrence Wheatley, guard Stephen Neal, tackle Nick Kaczur, and defensive end Myron Pryor . . . The Patriots are the only team to have won nine games in each of the last nine seasons. They are the first team to win more than half of their games in nine straight seasons since free agency began in 1993 and the fifth to reach the mark since the 1970 merger . . . Moss has 10 receiving touchdowns in a season for the ninth time in his career, which ties Jerry Rice for the most all-time. Moss also became the first Patriot receiver to have three seasons of 10-plus touchdowns . . . For the first time since 1996 and sixth time overall, the Patriots have two players with nine or more touchdowns (Moss and Laurence Maroney, 9).

Globe correspondent Duane Rankin contributed to this report.

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