Patriots

With Rex Burkhead (foot) downgraded to out, time to finally see Damien Harris?

With Rex Burkhead (foot) downgraded to out, time to finally see Damien Harris?

The Patriots will be without Rex Burkhead again on Monday night. How will they replace him against the Jets? Will they replace him at all?

Burkhead was ruled out for his team's Week 7 matchup in New Jersey one day after he'd been listed as "questionable" for the game with a foot injury. He was downgraded to "out" on Sunday, ensuring that he'd miss his third consecutive game. Burkhead dealt with a foot injury going into Week 4 in Buffalo and was limited in that game, playing only 12 snaps.

His continued absence is a significant one for the Patriots in that when he's been healthy he's been their best all-purpose back. He leads all Patriots backs in yards per carry (4.7), putting his average more than a full yard better than Sony Michel's (3.5). His yards per reception (8.4) are slightly higher than that of primary pass-catching back James White (7.2). 

Given the injuries the Patriots are dealing with at receiver -- Josh Gordon (knee, ankle) has already been ruled out while Julian Edelman (chest), Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) and Gunner Olszewski (hamstring) are questionable -- Burkhead would've given the Patriots another capable pass-catcher for Tom Brady to turn to. Plus, the Jets have had issues covering backs in the passing game this year. They're 27th in the league in terms of success rate allowed to pass-catching running backs, and they're 22nd in yards per target to running backs. 

In the last three weeks, with Burkhead hurt, White has seen a total of 28 targets. It would come as little surprise if White approached double-digit looks from Brady on Monday night with Burkhead out. Michel (five catches on six targets) and Brandon Bolden (three catches, three targets) have also factored into the passing game with Rex Burkhead out the last two weeks. 

Will Damien Harris make his pro debut in uniform with Burkhead down again? Given little has changed at the running back spot in terms of player availability in the last couple weeks, my guess would be no. 

The Patriots have already made five players inactive: Burkhead, Gordon, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo and Michael Bennett. Harris and Korey Cunningham (healthy scratch the last four games) would make sense as the final two. As is the case with Harris, Cunningham's position group hasn't undergone any changes due to injury this week that would prompt his activation. 

Byron Cowart and Joejuan Williams were healthy scratches last week and could be held out again this weekend. But Cowart could end up in uniform with Bennett out. And Williams might have a chance at contributing given that he's played in two games as a special teamer, and he could help the team's secondary depth should Patrick Chung (eight snaps last week, questionable for Monday with heel and chest injuries) be limited. 

There's always the chance that Harris has improved in practice to the point of proving that he's worthy of game action. And if the team has been disappointed in its running game -- 3.4 yards per rush last week, 3.5 on the season -- maybe it'll turn to the third-round rookie for a bit of a spark. 

But if Harris hasn't played to this point, and if little has changed with the health of Patriots backs over the course of the last few weeks, then he may be looking at another game off. 

If this ended up being a "redshirt" season for him, while disappointing for those who enjoyed watching him run with power at Alabama, Harrid could look a few stalls down in the locker room for evidence that a slow start isn't the worst thing for a young back in this offense. White played in just three games as a rookie and touched the ball 14 times. Two years later he was arguably the most valuable player on the field not named Brady in Super Bowl LI.

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Cowboys' Leighton Vander Esch could miss Patriots game with back issue

Cowboys' Leighton Vander Esch could miss Patriots game with back issue

The Dallas Cowboys could be without one of their best defensive players when they take on the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch isn't expected to practice on Friday due to a back issue and is in danger of missing the Week 12 matchup, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Vander Esch has already missed one game this season due to a neck injury. The Boise State product said he's "been looking forward [to facing Tom Brady] his whole life," but it appears Dallas' 2018 first-round draft pick may need to wait a bit longer for the opportunity.

In nine games this year, Vander Esch has tallied 70 tackles, three passes defensed, a forced fumble and half of a sack.

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Sources: Patriots not interested in bringing back Antonio Brown

Sources: Patriots not interested in bringing back Antonio Brown

Once bitten, twice shy.

Two sources with knowledge of the Patriots thinking scoffed at the idea Antonio Brown would rejoin the Patriots this season.

When one source was asked if there was a chance the wideout – who was with the Patriots for less than two tumultuous weeks in September – might have a chance at rejoining the team, this was the two-word response.

“What’s changed?”

I mentioned Brown’s social media apology to owner Robert Kraft earlier in the week and his meeting last week with the NFL as possibly changing the equation.

I was told that it does not.

At issue aren’t hurt feelings that Brown couldn’t fix with a few keystrokes. It’s the wariness of something else cropping up down the road.

When the Patriots signed Brown, there was no advance notice from Brown’s agent Drew Rosenhaus that Brown was on the cusp of being slapped with a lawsuit by his former trainer Britney Taylor even though the legal wrangling between Brown and Taylor’s attorneys had been going on for months.

And while it was subsequently reported Rosenhaus couldn’t break a confidentiality agreement Brown supposedly had in place, the fact that the Patriots entered into the Brown experience not knowing at all that that bombshell was waiting to explode makes them unwilling to go down the same road again.

Florio: If Patriots don’t sign Antonio Brown, "somebody else will">>>

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