New England Patriots

Rex Burkhead walks off the field with trainers against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 17, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The New England Patriots won 27-24. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Patriots fans can exhale – the Rex Burkhead injury is not as serious as it appeared. The running back has reportedly been diagnosed with a knee sprain, avoiding a torn ACL.

The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport first shared the news via Twitter on Tuesday. Burkhead sustained the injury during the third quarter of the Patriots’ 27-24 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Rapoport added that the Patriots are “optimistic” that Burkhead will be back for the playoffs. That gives him up to three weeks to recover from the injury.

Burkhead had been emerging as a top weapon for Tom Brady in recent weeks. He rushed 34 times for 148 yards (4.35 yards per attempt) with five touchdowns in four games prior to the injury, including Sunday. He also caught 11 of 12 targets for 78 yards and a receiving touchdown in that span.

Next Man Up

In light of the Rex Burkhead injury, the Patriots will likely look back to Mike Gillislee to fill out the running back depth chart. The former Buffalo Bill has been inactive for the past six games in a row, including four healthy scratches. He’s been out the last two weeks due to an illness.

Despite Burkhead’s recent emergence, Dion Lewis has continued to be the lead back in the Patriots’ running game. He’s led the team in carries in every game since Week 5 at Tampa Bay. He’s likely to see even more rush attempts in the Patriots’ final two regular season games with Burkhead on the shelf.

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Although the Rex Burkhead injury is far from ideal, the Patriots control their playoff destiny after beating the Steelers and may not need him in order to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.