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Here's a look at how the Patriots' first-year players are faring through three games:
CB Devin McCourty (first round): McCourty has been on the field for every defensive play this season, the only player on that side of the ball to do so. In a much-maligned secondary, McCourty has shown some consistency as well as some rookie miscues. He recorded five tackles against the Bills but was also beat for a TD in the fourth quarter. The play before he was beat, though, he made a stop for no gain. On a deep ball to Lee Evans that was overthrown, McCourty was step-for-step with Evans, a good sign.
TE Rob Gronkowski (second round): "Gronk" caught his second TD pass of the season on Sunday. Of his five receptions this season, two have been for TDs. It says a lot about Gronkowski that with all the weapons Tom Brady has, he has looked for Gronkowski inside the 10-yard line on two occasions this season.
OLB Jermaine Cunningham (second round): In his second start, Cunningham recorded a tackle for loss and a QB hit. He seems to be the Patriots' best option at putting pressure on the QB. With more plays under his belt, Cunningham is going to continue seeing more playing time unless someone else can set the edge better than him.
ILB Brandon Spikes (second round): Spikes misread a big run by Marshawn Lynch in the first quarter when the middle opened up with NT Vince Wilfork blocked. He recorded two tackles in the game but could help more on the pass rush and covering tight ends.
TE Aaron Hernandez (fourth round): For the second straight game, Hernandez was the Patriots' leading receiver with six catches for 65 yards. He is making guys miss in the secondary and lining up in the slot, on the line and as an H-back, showing his versatility. He continues to be a favorite target for Brady but did have one miscue getting called for offensive pass interference.
P Zoltan Mesko (fifth round): Mesko struggled against the Bills in his three punts, averaging just below 35 yards net. Head coach Bill Belichick defended Mesko on Tuesday in a conference call even though he brought punters in to work out last week. Mesko is still a giant improvement from last season and will keep getting better.
Notes: Seventh-round DE Brandon Deaderick, undrafted DE Kyle Love, and undrafted LB Dane Fletcher were all inactive for the third consecutive game. ... Third-round WR Taylor Price battled an ankle injury last week and has also been inactive for all three games. ... The team waived undrafted rookie OT Steve Maneri on Monday, but he could end up on the practice squad.