Burkhead has missed the last three games with a foot injury suffered against the New York Jets in Week 3. He was available for the Patriots game the following week at Buffalo, but saw limited snaps catching just one pass for seven yards.
In his absence, Brandon Bolden and Sony Michel have been seeing more reps in the receiving game, both performing admirably. But Burkhead’s return will be a welcome one seeing as the forecast calls for rain in New England on Sunday, meaning more rushing and short passes than anything on offense.
Burkhead has 24 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown along with 12 catches for 117 yards through four games.
While Burkhead is back, the Patriots are still without tight ends Matt LaCosse (knee) and Ryan Izzo (concussion) for the second straight week. Burkhead’s return means rookie running back Damien Harris is back on the inactive list.
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Shaq Mason Sidelined
The Patriots only needed to name six inactives on Sunday because they never filled the open roster spot vacated by Michael Bennett. Offensive guard Shaq Mason is one of those remaining inactives along with rookies Joejuan Williams and Byron Cowart.
Mason is the latest offensive lineman to suffer an injury for the Patriots as he was limited in practice all week with an ankle injury. It’s a big loss for the Patriots pass protection as Mason was one of the best pass-blocking linemen in the NFL.
He has struggled with his run blocking this season but has helped give Tom Brady a ton of time to throw. The Patriots will likely turn to Jermaine Eluemunor at the right guard position on Sunday.
It will also mean offensive tackle Korey Cunningam is active for the second time this season. Cunningham played well against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2, but has not seen playing time since given the surplus of tackles for the Patriots.
More Work for Watson & Tomlinson
Without LaCosse last week, the Patriots used healthy tight ends Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson a ton in different roles. Watson served as more of a receiver but also helped with run blocking. Tomlinson lined up at fullback to set blocks for Sony Michel and also caught a pass.
Tomlinson was thought to have been released early in the week when the Patriots acquired receiver Mohamed Sanu via a trade with Atlanta. But he was later pulled back after New England controversially placed Josh Gordon on injured reserve.
With Burkhead active, the Patriots employ an offense that runs a ton of short plays to eat up valuable minutes. That means New England will need big production from its tight ends in run blocking while quickly bouncing off blocks to get open on short slant routes.