Patriots may get key contributors back for Bills matchup

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots could have their two top contributors on offense back on the field for Sunday’s key AFC East matchup with the Bills.

Leading rusher Damien Harris returned to practice Wednesday after sitting out last week’s loss at Indianapolis with a hamstring injury.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick also at least left open the possibility that receiver Kendrick Bourne could return by Sunday after being one of four Patriots placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday along with linebackers Harvey Langhi, Cameron McGrone and Ronnie Perkins.

“If he meets the criteria that the league set up, sure,” Belichick said Wednesday regarding Bourne’s status.

Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (ankle/ribs) and receiver N’Keal Harry (hip) were also back on the field after leaving last week’s loss to the Colts early. Receiver Nelson Agholor (concussion), rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson (illness) and offensive lineman Yasir Durant (COVID-19 list) were the only other players absent from the portion of Wednesday’s practice open to reporters.

Bourne’s potential eligibility for Sunday stems from the NFL’s update to its COVID-19 protocols last week, which allows players who are fully vaccinated to be released from the typical 10-day quarantine period early by testing negative daily and remaining asymptomatic for at least 24 hours.

While his vaccination status is unknown, Bourne said in an Instagram post that he wasn’t experiencing symptoms.

Having Bourne and Harris available would be huge for the Patriots as they look to tangle with a Bills defense that is allowing an NFL-low 288 yards per game. That’s on top of having the league’s best passing defense, allowing just 176 yards per game through the air.

Bourne leads the team with 45 receptions and 667 receiving yards. He tops all Patriots receivers with five TD catches.

Harris had a season-high 111 rushing yards in the first matchup with the Bills and was energetic and animated on the field during Wednesday’s practice. He currently leads the team with 754 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.

Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones is coming off a rough outing against Indianapolis in which he had two bad interceptions and completed 58% of his passes in the 27-17 loss, his second-worst completion rate of the season.

He got away with throwing only three passes in blustery conditions during New England’s 14-10 win at Buffalo in Week 13, but will likely need to do more this week.

The current forecast calls for the game-time temperature to be around 40 degrees with winds at 10-15 mph.

“Certainly the weather last time was unique to some extent,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “But this go-around, it seems … that’s going to be a little bit more static, if you will. So we’ll just see where it goes.”

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