HOUSTON — The Patriots’ already potent rushing attack will be further bolstered Sunday with Sony Michel being activated off injured reserve Saturday, an NFL source confirmed.
In addition, the source confirmed the club released edge rusher Derek Rivers and guard Hjalte Froholdt. Linebacker Terez Hall was signed to the 53-man roster after being a COVID-19 replacement the last two weeks.
New England also activated receiver Donte Moncrief off the practice squad as a standard elevation and signed veteran defensive lineman Akeem Spence to the practice squad.
Defensive tackle Adam Butler (shoulder) and running back J.J. Taylor didn’t travel and have been ruled out for the game.
Michel has missed six straight games after suffering a quadriceps injury against the Raiders in Week 3 — an afternoon in which he ran for 117 yards on just nine carries.
In his absence, Damien Harris has seized the role of New England’s bellcow back, rushing for 471 yards on 85 carries, including three 100-plus-yard efforts.
The Patriots are third in the NFL at 161.1 rushing yards per game and seventh in average gain per carry (4.8 yards), and they are facing a Houston team that is last in the league in rushing yards allowed at 167.4 per game.
New England had until Nov. 26 to activate Michel, and running backs coach Ivan Fears indicated the third-year back, who also was briefly on the COVID-19 list, has been looking sharp in recent workouts.
“Heck, yeah. He’s getting back,’' said Fears. “He was down, illness-wise there for a little bit, too, so that really set him back. So, we’ve got to get him back in shape and get him going again. And he’s doing a great job. I mean, he’s really looking good in practice. He really is.’'
Michel was New England’s leading rusher the last two seasons, collecting more than 900 yards in each.
Rivers, the team’s top pick in 2017 (third round, No. 83 overall), has been hampered by injuries during his career. He tore his ACL during the preseason of his rookie year and suffered a second season-ending injury in the 2019 preseason. In 14 career games, Rivers has 2.5 sacks and 6 total tackles.
Froholdt was taken in the fourth round in 2019 and missed his rookie season after suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason finale. He was a reserve in the first eight games of this season and played a career-high 45 snaps against the Broncos in Week 6.
Hall, who spent last season on the practice squad, has 16 total tackles over the last two weeks, including 10 in last week’s win over the Ravens.
Butler has battled through shoulder and elbow injuries this season, but this will be the first time in his career he’s missed a game — a streak of 64, including the playoffs. He is an interior pass-rushing force in sub packages, consistently pressuring the pocket. Butler’s absence likely opens the door for Isaiah Mack to make his Patriots debut after being claimed off waivers two weeks ago.
With Michel’s return, Taylor likely would have been inactive.
This is a homecoming game for Patriots receiver Gunner Olszewski, who actually played at NRG Stadium in a youth football game during halftime of a college game some years ago. Olszewski was put on IR right before the club played in Houston last year. “Coming home, it’s cool. You know, I had this circled last year on the calendar. It’s kind of rare we get to go to Houston two years in a row, but I’m pretty stoked about that,’' said Olszewski in his thick Southern drawl. “Yeah, I’m looking forward to being back in Tay-hass’' … New receiver Isaiah Ford, a Jacksonville native, turned the tables on the media Friday, asking, “Does anyone know where I can get a winter coat?” … The Patriots are 10-2 all time vs. the Texans, though Houston won last year’s game, 28-22 … Give yourself an extra pat on the back if you remember the Patriots kicker in that game was Kai Forbath, who stepped in when Nick Folk had to have his appendix removed.