Mark Brown / Contributor

The New England Patriots are 2-4 and in danger of falling too far back to make a serious run at an AFC playoff spot. Making matters worse, they will not have the best player on their defense when they take on the division rival Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The Patriots downgraded star cornerback Stephon Gilmore to out after he did not travel with the team for the game. Gilmore, who has been the subject of trade rumors in recent weeks as the Patriots have struggled to put together victories, popped up on the injury report with a knee issue late in the week. Apparently, it's serious enough that it will keep him off the field entirely. Fellow defensive back Kyle Dugger was ruled out of the Buffalo game as well. 

Gilmore, the 2019 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, has been a first team All-Pro in each of the past two seasons. He seems to have taken a slight step backward this season, even if only because it would be extraordinarily difficult for anyone to match his level of play between 2018 and 2019. Gilmore spent the first five years of his career in Buffalo before signing the largest free-agent contract in Patriots history prior to the 2017 season. 

The Patriots defense as a whole has not been as solid this season as it was a year ago, with free-agent losses and opt-outs sapping some of their talent base. Combined with the offensive issues caused by a lack of high-level weaponry and Cam Newton's backslide since his COVID-19 diagnosis and recovery, the Patriots have lost three consecutive games. They have division games against the Bills and Jets on tap before a Week 10 showdown with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, who torched the vaunted Pats defense last year.