Rex Burkhead, Alan Branch Nearing Return For Patriots, Could Play Saturday

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Patriots running back Rex Burkhead

Photo via Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports Images

FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots could have two important players — one on offense, the other on defense — back in the fold for their postseason opener.

Running back Rex Burkhead and defensive tackle Alan Branch addressed the media Wednesday for the first time since suffering knee injuries in Weeks 15 and 14, respectively.

Neither would confirm his status for Saturday’s divisional-round matchup with the Tennessee Titans, but both expressed optimism after returning to practice last week.

“I’m just ready to get back out there with the team,” Burkhead said. “I’m just excited for the playoffs and everything that’s in store. … Whatever happens, happens. Throughout the process, I was really just kind of focused on this time and excited for these games.”

Branch added: “I feel like I’m good to go. If I’m out there at all, that’s not my call. So we’ll see.”

Burkhead sustained his injury on a red-zone rush during a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. It initially appeared serious — several Steelers defenders immediately signaled to medical personnel on the sideline — and Burkhead feared it would end his season.

He later received “good news,” however, and after enduring the frustration of missing the final two regular-season games, his chances of returning to action this weekend appear strong.

“Of course, it’s frustrating,” said Burkhead, who also missed four games earlier in the season with injured ribs. “You play the game and compete, and you want to be out there. But at the same time, I’m not going to sulk and keep my head down when I’m in the locker room. That doesn’t benefit myself or the team. So I’m just trying to stay positive, encouraging guys and learning as much as I can still.”

With James White also missing Weeks 16 and 17 with an ankle injury — he’s expected back Saturday — Dion Lewis carried the load for New England, racking up 222 rushing yards in wins over the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

“I’ve been impressed by Dion every since I first watched him back in college,” Burkhead said. “He’s a great player. He’s tremendous in the run game, the pass game, and the way he makes guys miss is unbelievable. Just watching him, you can always learn something to put in your game.”

Branch, who hasn’t played since injuring his knee early in the Patriots’ loss to the Miami Dolphins, said the team’s playoff bye week did him well.

“It gave me an extra week to get to running and try to get healed up so I could play in this game,” he said. “So it helped me, personally. … It gave me an extra week to get healed up.”

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