Patriots

'Good news' has Burkhead feeling positive before Patriots playoff debut

patriots_rex_burkhead_081917.jpg

'Good news' has Burkhead feeling positive before Patriots playoff debut

FOXBORO -- Rex Burkhead gambled on himself last offseason, accepting a one-year deal to join James White and Dion Lewis in a talented Patriots backfield that quickly became even more crowded when Mike Gillislee was signed as a restricted free agent. The results have been mixed.

Burkhead has proven to be an easy fit in an offense that has benefited from his varied skill set, but staying on the field has been an issue. He played in 10 regular-season games, and his workload in terms of snaps was about half of what both Lewis and White were given. 

In 195 plays Burkhead took 64 hand-offs and was targeted in the passing game 36 times, meaning on more than 50 percent of his snaps played he was the focal point of the play. On the one hand, he's proven to be more than a reserve runner and special-teamer, which was his role in Cincinnati for the first four years of his career. But on the other, his durability has come into question after dealing with a rib injury that kept him out a month early in the season and a knee injury that forced him to miss the final two games of the year.

How teams will be willing to spend on Burkhead as a free agent this upcoming offseason will be fascinating to track, but the Patriots are just hoping to have him available this weekend against the Titans. He's been limited in recent practices, but he showed some optimism on Wednesday. 

"I'm just excited . . . After the injury, you never know what is going to happen so that's always in the back of your head," he said. "But when you get good news, it helps you to look forward to these games a little better."

If the Patriots could get Burkhead on the field -- giving them a full complement of pass-catching backs with Lewis and White, who is expected to play after missing the final two weeks of the season with an injured ankle -- he could be particularly useful against Tennessee. 

The Titans are one of the better run defenses in the NFL, limiting opponents to 3.45 yards rushing in their last eight games. But in the passing game, Tennessee is statistically the NFL's most generous defense when it comes to covering backs. According to Football Outsiders, the Titans are allowing a league-high 58.3 yards per game to pass-catching running backs on 8.7 targets.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Legendary broadcaster Gil Santos passes away at the age of 80

Legendary broadcaster Gil Santos passes away at the age of 80

Legendary Patriots broadcaster Gil Santos passed away today on his birthday at the age of 80.

The long-time voice of the Pats served in the booth for a total of 36 years, mostly alongside former Patriots kicker Gino Cappelletti. Santos also served as the morning sports anchor for WBZ-TV.

Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft released a statement on his passing:

Santos was in the booth for 743 Patriots games, 15 playoff runs and 6 Super Bowls. He was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2013, only the second non-player to earn that honor. 

“For generations of Patriots fans, Gil Santos was and forever will be known as the ‘Voice of the Patriots.’ Tonight, I am deeply saddened to learn of his passing on a day that he was celebrating his 80th birthday and his 57th wedding anniversary to his wife, Roberta. Gil was a legendary broadcaster, who for 36 years passionately described the play-by-play detail of every Patriots game during his career, including many of the most memorable moments in franchise history. It was my privilege to honor Gil with his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2013. His legacy and most memorable calls will live there for future generations of Patriots fans to enjoy. On behalf of the entire Patriots organization, we extend our sincerest sympathies to Roberta, his daughter Kathleen, his son Mark and the many others who are mourning his loss.”

The versatile Santos also called basketball games for the Celtics and Providence College, as well as college football games for Boston College and Penn State. He was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2009.

Gil Santos was born in Acushnet and spent most of his adult life living in the town of Raynham. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE