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Patriots Wrap Up: Branch, Burkhead practice

For the eighth straight season, the Patriots are enjoying a bye week to start the postseason. On Wednesday, after a two-day layoff following the regular season finale, Bill Belichick’s squad resumed practicing on their game field at Gillette Stadium.

New England got some good news with the return of defensive tackle Alan Branch and running back Rex Burkhead, who have both been dealing with right knee injuries. Before today, Branch had not played or practiced since sustaining his injury against the Dolphins in Miami in Week 14. Burkhead was injured a week later at Pittsburgh and was sidelined until today’s session.

Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (knee) continues to make progress in his attempt to return from injured reserve. He has now appeared at four consecutive practices dating back to last week. It was noteworthy as well to see QB/co-captain Tom Brady taking part, as he has taken Wednesday workouts off in recent weeks to treat an Achilles heel problem.

Only two Patriots did not appear to be involved Wednesday (teams with a playoff bye are not required to distribute injury reports this week). Running back Mike Gillislee (knee) did not practice all last week and was inactive for the Jets game this past Sunday. Defensive end Eric Lee (ankl/finger) also sat out today’s workout, despite having played in the finale versus New York.

New England apparently made an alteration to its practice squad, as wide receiver Bernard Reedy was not seen at practice, but linebacker Trevor Reilly was. Reilly has been with the team on and off this season, both on the active roster and practice squad.

bye-ing time

As the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Patriots will face the lowest remaining seed from this weekend’s Wild Card games on Saturday, Jan. 13. Since Buffalo is the 6th and lowest seed in the conference and doesn’t kick off until 1 p.m. Sunday, New England won’t know for sure who it will host in the Divisional round until the conclusion of the Bills-Jaguars contest.

In the meantime, the Patriots are using this week to evaluate themselves and make any corrections they feel necessary, while also scheduling some time to relax and decompress from the marathon regular season.

“We all know what the deal is,” stated cornerback Eric Rowe. “We’ve got to flip the switch this week, take care of our bodies, work on ourselves.”

The Patriots are currently scheduled to practice again on Thursday and take the rest of the weekend off, but it remains to be seen if those plans will be altered due to the approaching blizzard that is expected to pummel the area tomorrow. In the past, players have been disciplined for not being at the facility on time during snowstorms – a fact that isn’t lost on the current roster.

“Just leave a little early, I guess,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore chuckled. “I’ve got a garage, so, hopefully, I’ll be okay.”

“I wouldn’t tell them to sleep here, because we’re here more than enough,” safety/co-captain Duron Harmon advised, “but I would tell them, ‘Make sure you’re here, ready to go. Snow doesn’t matter. You have to find a way to get here.’ Wake up a little bit earlier to make sure your car is good to get out… these days are too important for us to have guys missing or being late. We need everybody focused and ready to go.

“You relax when you can. When we’re in here working, we have to work as hard as we can, because none of these days are promised after next week.  So, we have to put everything we have into it. When you get time away from the facility this weekend, you want to relax and just enjoy the time with your family, because we don’t get that type of time anymore.”

‘Good Guy’ goes to McCourty

This year’s Ron Hobson Good Guy Award was presented Wednesday to safety/co-captain Devin McCourty. It’s an honor – voted on by members of the Patriots media corps – given to the player who has been most helpful to reporters over the past season.

Special teams co-captain Matthew Slater won the inaugural award last year.

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