The New England Patriots received some good news as running back Rex Burkhead and defensive tackle Alan Branch returned to Wednesday’s practice at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots are currently on a bye week and will play in the divisional round on January 13. Burkhead and Branch both missed their Week 17 win over the New York Jets due to right knee injuries. Branch suffered the injury in Week 14 against the Miami Dolphins while Burkhead went down against the Pittsburgh Steelers a week later. The Patriots were hoping to have both Burkhead and Branch back before their playoff game.

Branch is a crucial piece in the defense while Burkhead is a threat on offense for the Patriots. In 10 games this season, Burkhead ran 64 times for 264 yards and five touchdowns, and caught 30 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns.

Meanwhile, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell practiced for the fourth straight time since his return from injured reserve due to a knee injury. Veteran quarterback Tom Brady also practiced after missing training in recent weeks to treat an Achilles heel problem. Running back Mike Gillislee and defensive end Eric Lee missed practice due to different injuries. Gillislee has been dealing with a knee problem while Lee missed practice due to an injured ankle and finger.

Belichick warns players about being late for practice

The Patriots captured the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs after finishing the season with a 13-3 record. As the top seed, the Patriots will face the lowest remaining seed from this weekend’s Wild Card games on Saturday. The Patriots used Wednesday’s practice to evaluate themselves and make any necessary adjustments.

“We all know what the deal is,” cornerback Eric Rowe said.

The Patriots are scheduled to practice Thursday before taking the rest of the weekend off. Meanwhile, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick warned his players not to use the snowstorm that is expected to hit New England on Thursday as an excuse to be late for practice. According to special teams captain Matthew Slater, Belichick warned the team several times about being late.

In 2009, Belichick sent home four players for being late for practice.

Patriots sign linebacker to practice squad

Meanwhile, the Patriots signed linebacker Trevor Reilly to the practice squad. The 29-year-old Reilly was first signed by the Patriots to the practice squad on October 12, 2017 and was promoted to the 53-man roster on October 25, 2017. After playing six games for the Patriots, the team released him on October 26, 2017. During that span, Reilly recorded six tackles on defense and four tackles on special teams. The Patriots also released wide receiver Bernard Reedy.