PITTSBURGH — Victory came with a price Sunday as the Patriots lost multipurpose tailback Rex Burkhead to a knee injury early in the third quarter.
Taking a handoff a first and goal from the 6-yard line, Burkhead squeezed through a hole off right tackle but was met by Steelers defensive end Tyson Alualu.
Burkhead went down and stayed down for a bit as he was attended to by the medical staff. He walked to the sideline slowly and without much of a limp, but in what may be an ominous sign was declared out almost immediately.
Burkhead had four rushes for 12 yards and a touchdown and one catch for 5 yards before leaving.
He is the Patriots’ third-leading rusher (64 carries, 264 yards, 5 TDs) and also has 30 catches for 254 yards and 3 TDs on the season.
The Patriots have Mike Gillislee, who was a healthy scratch for the sixth straight week, in their running back corps. Gillislee is still the team’s second-leading rusher (98 carries, 355 yards, 4 TDs).
Steelers’ Brown hurt
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown left the game in the second quarter with a calf injury and was later taken to the hospital for further evaluation, according to the team.
He was initially ruled questionable to return following a collision in the end zone. However, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told CBS just before halftime that he did not expect to have Brown back in the game, and the team later confirmed he would not return.
Brown was helped off the field by trainers and appeared unable to put weight on his left leg after colliding with Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe and safety Duron Harmon.
Brown went into the medical tent on the sideline before being taken to the locker room. He was able to put some weight on his left leg walking to the locker room.
Team president Jonathan Kraft deflected rumors that there’s a developing rift between Patriots staffers and Tom Brady’s guru and partner at TB12, Alex Guerrero.
“I haven’t heard anything from the coaching staff or Alex about either one being upset with each other. I read the reports, I don’t know anything about that,’’ Kraft said during his pregame appearance on 98.5.
“I’ve seen Alex in the building each of the last couple of weeks, maybe one of the last two, I’m not there that much, but I’ve seen Alex in the building and he always seems like he’s in a good mood. Alex is a great guy and neither one has said anything to me about what I read in the media.”
Kraft, who said he believes Guerrero “works with a number of our players,” said Guerrero hasn’t been banned from traveling with the team but was unsure if he was in Pittsburgh Sunday.
“I got to Pittsburgh about an hour ago, I don’t know if he’s in Pittsburgh or not,’’ Kraft said. “I haven’t seen him but that doesn’t mean he’s not here.’’
Guerrero was not spotted on the sideline during the game.
Britt a happy addition
Kenny Britt was stretching his sleeves into a brand new navy blue T-shirt inside the Patriots locker room Sunday night, barely able to contain the smile that crossed his face. Just a few weeks ago, Britt was an unhappy wide receiver on the winless Browns. Now, he is an AFC East champion wide receiver on the Patriots, who managed to crack his way into the box score (one catch for 7 yards) despite joining the team early last week.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “Different. I never felt this. For me, it’s a dream come true, to tell you the truth. This is one of the places I wanted to be for a while, and my life journey hasn’t taken me there until now. God works in mysterious ways.
“That game was unbelievable. I’ve never been division champs ever in my life. Never been in that atmosphere in my nine years. Just walking out there in pregame was something amazing. A lot of people don’t get that feeling and I’m just embracing it all now.”
Britt knew he would be a game-time decision to play, as he’s still learning the playbook and getting to know his teammates. He laughed out loud when asked about his comfort level entering the game.
“What do you mean comfort level?” he sputtered. “None. At all. But those guys believed in me, the coaches believed in me. Since I stepped in, the guys in the building have helped me, they build each other up.
“I was just happy to be on the team, to tell you the truth. More toward the end of the week grasping the playbook a little bit more, building my confidence a bit, guys helped me out, Tom helped me out, all the receivers, I knew I was OK going in the game and I know those guys would help me out.”
Kraft also addressed the team’s signing of Britt, who was released by the Browns last week. Britt had visited as a free agent but team owner Robert Kraft told the Herald he wouldn’t be signed because of off-field issues.
Why the change of heart on Britt?
“I did not know back then what Robert said, but my guess at the time is it wasn’t something Robert said but something he had heard from someone, but that would be my assumption, so I don’t know,’’ said Jonathan Kraft.
Chris Hogan was a somewhat surprising inactive as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury suffered in Week 8. He was active but ineffective against the Dolphins last week: 1 catch on 5 targets for 10 yards). The other Patriot inactives were Gillislee, Kyle Van Noy (calf), Brandon King (hamstring), Alan Branch (knee), Geneo Grissom, and Cole Croston . . . Cam Fleming got the start at right tackle for the Patriots. Prior to the game, Bill Belichick commented on the decision to put right tackle Marcus Cannon on injured reserve last week because of an ankle injury he suffered in Week 8. “Marcus worked really hard to get back but it didn’t respond,’’ Belichick said. “We had to move on.”