James White appeared on the verge of tears as he addressed the knee injury that knocked fellow New England Patriots running back Rex Burkhead out of Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans.
During the third quarter of New England’s 27-20 defeat, Burkhead took a shot to the knee from cornerback Bradley Roby, crumbled to the NRG Stadium turf, was carted to the locker room and did not return.
The Patriots fear he suffered a torn ACL, according to a report from Jeff Howe of The Athletic.
“I’m hurt for him,” a visibly emotional White said in his postgame video conference. “I’m still hurting for him. (He’s) a good friend of mine — not just a teammate, but a guy I call my friend. To see him go down like that is never good. He was having a great year, as well, making huge plays for us. It’s just tough, man. You just hate to see it.”
Burkhead, who joined the Patriots before the 2017 season, was in the midst of a career campaign, on pace for career highs in rushing yards (267 through nine games entering Sunday), receiving yards (187) and total touchdowns (six). He’s the Patriots’ most versatile running back and a prominent contributor on special teams.
Quarterback Cam Newton called losing Burkhead — who, if the Patriots’ suspected diagnosis proves correct, would miss the rest of the season — “extremely devastating.”
“Knowing how great of a teammate he is, knowing how great of a leader he is, knowing what he brings to this team,” Newton said. “But he’s a warrior, and I know he’ll be back stronger. His influence will be missed.”
Burkhead missed games due to foot, neck, ribs and knee injuries during his first three Patriots campaigns, but he’d been remarkably durable this season, not making a single appearance on New England’s injury report since training camp.
“You never want to lose your brother or your teammate,” receiver Damiere Byrd said. “Obviously, Rex has been great for us throughout the season, and it was very tough to see him go down. We’re praying for him and hoping that he makes a speedy recovery and that the injury isn’t too bad.”
White has the same hope, though he quickly realized Burkhead’s injury was severe. The Patriots ruled Burkhead out just minutes after he exited the field.
“Whenever anybody’s not really moving too much, it’s just kind of scary,” White said. “I was just hoping for nothing serious. They’re going to do more (tests) on him, I guess.
“But I hope he can come back better than ever, and I’ll miss my guy, man. He’s been making huge plays for us — special teams, offense — ever since he’s been here. It’s just tough to see, man. I don’t know.”
The Patriots closed out Sunday’s game with White and Damien Harris as their only available running backs. Sony Michel, who was activated off injured reserve Saturday but did not dress against Houston, likely will draw back into the lineup next week against the Arizona Cardinals.
Undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor, who has not played since Week 3, also could be called upon to fill New England’s backfield void.