Rex Burkhead and Ja’Whaun Bentley go on injured reserve
FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots suffered a stunning 1-2 punch Wednesday when they had to place running back Rex Burkhead and rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley on injured reserve.
Both players suffered their injuries during the second half of Sunday night’s 26-10 loss to the Lions in Detroit. Burkhead has a neck injury while Bentley appeared to suffer an upper-body injury late in the game.
Burkhead and Bentley will be sidelined a minimum of eight weeks, and it’s possible they could miss the rest of the season. The Patriots signed defensive end/outside linebacker John Simon and re-signed running back Kenjon Barner to fill the roster spots.
Burkhead frequently has been bitten by the injury bug during his career, including several times since signing with the Patriots as free agent before the 2017 season. He had a knee injury early in camp this summer and also suffered a concussion in the Week 1 win over the Texans when he took a thunderous helmet-to-helmet hit from safety Kareem Jackson.
On Sunday night, Burkhead got tangled with Detroit’s Charles Washington during the kickoff after the Lions went ahead, 20-10. Burkhead’s head turned slightly, but he didn’t appear to be in distress. It was his final play of the game.
Burkhead, who had played 59 of the 184 offensive snaps this season, is also a core special teamer, playing on punt returns and coverages as well as kickoff returns and coverages.
His absence shines the light a little brighter on rookie first-rounder Sony Michel, who now becomes the team’s featured runner out of the backfield. James White will get carries but is still the team’s primary receiving back.
“It’s tough,’’ White said after practice Wednesday. “Definitely tough to see Rex go down, but it happens in football. Guys go down. Guys like me, Sony, Kenjon have to step up.’’
Bentley has been one of the defensive standouts through camp and the first three games of the season. He had one of the few highlights from the Lions game when he picked off Matthew Stafford early in the second half, sparking the Patriots’ lone touchdown drive.
Though Bentley’s exact injury is still unclear, he most likely suffered it when Lions guard T.J. Lang landed on him at the end of Kerryon Johnson’s 10-yard run with 4:52 left in the game. Bentley was slow to get up after the play. He was replaced by Nicholas Grigsby for New England’s final defensive series.
Bentley, an old-school, run-stuffing, thumping linebacker out of Purdue, had shown in his brief professional tenure that he could play on all three downs. His ability to drop back in coverage — something he wasn’t asked to do a lot of in college — stood out. As evidence of how highly thought of the rookie is, he was wearing the green dot as the defense’s communicator Sunday night, when he played 57 of the team’s 73 defensive snaps.
His injury leaves New England with just three pure linebackers in Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts. Grigsby and Brandon King are primarily special teams contributors.
Bentley posted a picture of his interception against the Lions on Instagram late Wednesday afternoon that included in the caption, “Pats Nation!! 2018 has been A Ride. It’s not WHY ME!? It’s TRY ME! . . . We Just Getting Started.’’
Simon is an edge-rushing specialist. He has played for the Ravens, Texans, and Colts and has 54 games under his belt, including 22 starts. Simon has collected 99 tackles, 13 sacks, and one interception return for a touchdown in his career.
“Any time you lose a player, it’s disappointing,” said Van Noy. “My prayers are to him because it’s not fun in this business, especially getting an injury and having to deal with coming back. It’s hard.
“But we support him. He’s our family and we’re going to be there for him. He was doing really well, picking up things, and we’ll be excited for him next year.’’
The Patriots rookie class has been ravaged by injuries, with six of the nine players selected landing on injured reserve. Only Bentley and second-round pick Duke Dawson (hamstring) have a chance to return.
Offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (first round), linebacker Christian Sam (sixth), receiver Braxton Berrios (sixth), and tight end Ryan Izzo (seventh) will miss the season.