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Da’Norris Searcy experienced plenty of firsts Sunday against the New England Patriots.

The Buffalo Bills’ starting free safety made the first tackle of the game. He also recorded his first career sack and scored his first career touchdown during the Bills’ 23-21 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“He played well,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said of Searcy after the game. “He’s been playing well, kind of under the radar a little bit with what’s going on.”

That would be the status of Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, whom Searcy replaced in the starting lineup. Byrd was held out of Sunday’s game because of the plantar fasciitis he’s dealing with in both feet.

“We knew we had a tough task ahead of us,” Searcy said of replacing Byrd. “We knew we had to go out there and trust each other and make sure we communicate right away. We felt like we made plays, but we still left a few out there.

“Our goal now is to just go watch the film and learn from it, keep getting better. It’s real early. It’s just Week One, and we know we’ve still got a long season ahead of us, so we know we can get this thing turned around.”

Searcy’s performance was a pleasant surprise on a day when that description fit the entire defensive effort. The third-year pro out of North Carolina made eight tackles — one off the team high of nine shared by Jim Leonhard, Kiko Alonso and Aaron Williams — to go with his sack.

That came early in the second quarter on a third-and-9 play from the Buffalo 42-yard line. Searcy came in unblocked from the left side to bring down Tom Brady for a 5-yard loss.

“Coaches made a great call to put me in the right position,” Searcy said, “and I just seized the moment.”

He did the same in the second quarter when he pounced on a fumble by New England running back Stevan Ridley, returning it 74 yards for the Bills’ first points of the 2013 season.

“I knew he wasn’t contacted down, so once I saw the ball pop up, I just picked it up and started running,” he said. “I didn’t hear a whistle, so I was going to keep running until I heard one.”

Searcy looked like he was running out of steam around the 20-yard line, but he made it into the end zone and celebrated his first touchdown since he was returning punts for the Tar Heels by jumping into the stands.

Searcy was part of a three-safety rotation the Bills utilized often against New England. That would be traditionally known as a “dime” package, although in reality, Searcy would move into a nickel linebacker role when Leonhard checked into the game.

“They’re both interchangeable,” Searcy said. “It’s putting the best guys out there to make plays.”

Searcy wasn’t able to do that late in the game, however, as severe cramping in both calf muscles landed him on the sidelines.

“It kept locking up on me,” he said. “I just have to make sure I stay hydrated and keep drinking. … I’ll be fine for next week.”

After Sunday’s effort, that’s good news for the Bills’ new-look defense.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com