The New England Patriots will play the next few weeks without key defensive lineman Alan Branch, who suffered a knee injury in their loss to the Miami Dolphins. Branch is expected to miss a few weeks due to a meniscus issue, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network insider. Branch did not play in the Patriots’ 27-24 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their crucial AFC clash Sunday. Bernd Buchmasser of reported that the Patriots want to get Branch back in time for the playoffs. The Patriots are in line for a first-round playoff bye following their win over the Steelers, so the 32-year-old Branch could play in the divisional round.

Until Branch returns, the Patriots will rely on the other players on their defensive charts, such as Malcolm Brown and Lawrence Guys, Adam Butler and Ricky Jean Francois. Jean Francois made quite an impact in his first game back with the Patriots since he was released December 2, finishing with six combined tackles, including one that led to a fumbled snap by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Two Patriots missed practice

Aside from Branch, running back Rex Burkhead did not join Wednesday’s practice due to a sprained knee that he suffered against the Steelers. Rapoport reported that an MRI revealed that Burkhead suffered a sprained and bruised knee, but avoided an ACL tear. The Patriots are optimistic that Burkhead will return in time for the playoffs.

In 10 games this season, Burkhead carried the ball 64 times for 264 yards and five touchdowns and caught 30 passes for 254 yards and three scores. Despite Burkhead’s absence, the Patriots remain deep at the running back position, with Dion Lewis and James White leading the way and with the expected return of Mike Gillislee to the lineup after being inactive for six weeks.

Limited during Wednesday’s practice for the Patriots were running backs Brandon Bolden (groin) and running back James White (ankle), wide receivers Chris Hogan (shoulder) and Matthew Slater (hamstring), defensive back Brandon King (hamstring), defensive end Eric Lee (ankle), linebacker Kyle Van Noy (calf), offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle (ankle).

Patriots sign wideout to practice squad

Days after he was released by the Patriots, wide receiver Bernard Reedy, rejoined the team after he was signed to the practice squad. To make room for Reedy, the Patriots released defensive lineman Marcus Hardison. The Patriots signed the 26-year-old Reedy to the practice squad on November 22 and he was promoted to the 53-man roster on December 2. However, the Patriots released the 5-foot-9 Reedy on December 13.