The Patriots left Houston with a loss to the Texans and a serious injury to a key member of their offense.
On a third-and-1 play in the third quarter Sunday afternoon, quarterback Cam Newton pitched the ball to running back Rex Burkhead, who rushed toward the left sideline. Burkhead hopped over a diving Bradley Roby, but knocked his right knee on Roby’s helmet. Texans defensive back Justin Reid then tackled Burkhead for a loss of a yard.
Burkhead stayed down on the field in obvious pain, as his teammates kneeled around him. He paid a quick visit to the blue medical tent before getting carted off the field.
The team immediately ruled him out for the remainder of the game.
“I’m hurting for him,” said teammate James White after New England’s 27-20 defeat. “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.”
In the final minutes of the game, starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn also went down, getting caught in an awkward split after two Texans incidentally landed on each of his legs. Wynn laid on the turf and was tended to by medical staff. He ultimately walked off the field under his own power. Jermaine Eluemunor filled in for New England’s final four plays.
Coach Bill Belichick did not share an update on Wynn, but said he spoke with Burkhead after the game. Belichick said he was awaiting medical confirmation on the severity of the knee injury. Burkhead will undergo an MRI.
“I wasn’t really sure what happened, but whenever somebody’s not really moving too much, it’s just kind of scary,” said White, who was visibly emotional. “I was just hoping for nothing serious.”
Against the Texans, Burkhead rushed for 7 yards on four carries, and caught two passes for 5 yards. That quiet stat line, however, is by no means representative of Burkhead’s contributions to the team this season.
Heading into Sunday’s game, Burkhead totaled 267 yards on the ground and another 187 in the air — on pace for career highs in both categories. He ranks second on the team in touchdowns scored (6), behind only Newton (9). In his fourth season in New England, the 30-year-old Nebraska product has maintained his role as a reliable pass-catching back.
“He’s having a great year,” White said. “Making huge plays for us. It’s just tough, man. You hate to see it.”
Added Newton: “It’s 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. He’s a warrior. He’ll be back stronger.”
With Burkhead out, the Patriots relied on White and second-year stud Damien Harris. White logged one of his busier games of the season, with five carries for 19 yards and six catches for 64 more, including a big 34-yard gain on New England’s second play of the game. Harris rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots were about to have a crowded backfield, as 2018 first-round draft pick Sony Michel was just activated off injured reserve after missing the last six games with a quad injury. Michel was inactive for Sunday’s game, as was undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor.
Michel’s role moving forward initially seemed muddied, given the consistent production from Harris, Burkhead, and White, but he likely will have an opportunity in Burkhead’s absence.
Asked last week if he thinks Michel is ready to contribute, running backs coach Ivan Fears said: “Heck yeah.”
“He’s getting back,” Fears said. “He’s doing a great job. I mean, he’s really looking good in practice. He really is.’'
If Burkhead is indeed done for the year, it’s possible Sunday marked his last game in a Patriots uniform because he is set to become a free agent at the conclusion of the season.
“You never want to lose your brother,” said wide receiver Damiere Byrd. “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 that injury isn’t too bad.”
More Patriots coverage
- Instant analysis: The Patriots’ lack of athleticism on defense was exposed by the Texans
- Sullivan: Cam Newton has served as a mentor for Deshaun Watson. On Sunday, his pupil got the best of him
- Patriots receiver Damiere Byrd reaches new heights with career day despite loss to Texans