When Mike Gillislee fumbled early in the New England Patriots’ Week 6 win over the New York Jets, head coach Belichick responded by gluing the running back to the bench for nearly two full quarters.
Rex Burkhead’s punishment Sunday was much more lenient.
Burkhead remained on the sideline for roughly a possession-and-a-half after he put the ball on the ground during the first quarter of the Patriots’ 33-8 win over the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City.
Perhaps Burkhead’s fate would have been different had his team lost the fumble (tight end Dwayne Allen pounced on it, and New England went on to score a touchdown), but offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday the miscue didn’t cause him to lose confidence in the first-year Patriot.
“All our guys try to protect the football at all times,” McDaniels said in a conference call. “Look, things happen in this game. We know how important ball security is to winning and losing, so it’s a critical aspect of what we do. We also understand that things do happen, and we have confidence in all our guys. He went back in there, carried the ball again, and he will continue to do that. You look at all those things as they come and try to make the best decision for the team, and Coach (Belichick) will always do that.”
Burkhead carried the ball just four times after his ball-security slip-up — three of which came on the game’s final drive after backup quarterback Brian Hoyer had replaced Tom Brady — but also was targeted four times in the passing game. His overall playing time did drop, however, from 51.4 percent of offensive snaps the previous week (36 snaps) to 31.7 percent (19 snaps).
But even with that diminished role, Burkhead still saw the field more than fellow running back James White, whose snap count and production have dipped of late. White played just 11 offensive snaps last week against the Denver Broncos and 17 against the Raiders, and finished without a catch Sunday for the first time since Week 8 of the 2015 season.
Dion Lewis has grabbed the reins as the Patriots No. 1 back, leading the team in rushing in each of the last six games. Gillislee, meanwhile, has been a healthy scratch for the last two weeks.
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images