FOXBORO, Mass. — After the New England Patriots’ Week 3 loss to the Detroit Lions, Bill Belichick sat down with running back Rex Burkhead.
Burkhead, who had dealt with myriad injuries during his first season in New England, had just suffered another — a neck injury that knocked him out of the Lions game. Two weeks before, he’d sustained a concussion in the Patriots’ season opener.
Belichick was there to deliver some unfortunate news: the Patriots were placing Burkhead on injured reserve, rendering him ineligible for the team’s next eight games. It would be six weeks before Burkhead would even be allowed to practice and, due to the placement of the Patriots’ bye week, another three weeks before he’d be permitted to play.
“We talked about it when I made the move (to place him on IR), and I talked to him about it,” Belichick explained Wednesday. “We had a lengthy discussion. I think we had a good understanding of what the situation was, what needed to be done, how to do it.”
While the Patriots, led in the backfield by Sony Michel, James White and converted receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, embarked on a six-game win streak that would end in early November, Burkhead got to work rehabbing. On Nov. 8, he returned to practice for the first time since the injury. On Monday, he was activated off IR and added to the 53-man roster.
Burkhead can make his return to game action this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
“Rex has worked really hard, as he always does,” Belichick said. “… He’s been very diligent and consistent with his approach to it, and I’d say as we got closer to the opportunity to bring him back to being eligible to practice and then ultimately being eligible to play, he consistently met or exceeded targets or things that he needed to show or do or be able to do to move forward. He’s done a great job. I look forward to having him back.”
In three games this season, Burkhead has 24 carries for 86 yards and three catches for 31 yards. He played in 10 games for the Patriots last season, rushing 64 times for 264 yards and five touchdowns and catching 30 passes for 254 yards and three scores.
Given his talents as a rusher and as a pass-catcher, Burkhead has the most versatile skill set of any Patriots running back (Patterson notwithstanding). Michel leads all Patriots rushers with 586 yards and five touchdowns on 127 carries this season but still is developing as a receiver, and White is known more for his prolific pass-catching prowess, though he already has surpassed his previous career highs with 70 carries for 303 yards this seasons.
Thumbnail photo via Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports Images