Rex Burkhead and Rob Gronkowski have, at minimum, one thing in common.
Through Week 14 of the 2017 season, they share the New England Patriots’ lead in total touchdowns.
Gronkowski’s been there many spikes before, seeing how the four-time All-Pro set the franchise record in October and became the fastest tight end to amass 70 TD grabs in September. Burkhead, though, really hasn’t been since his days at Nebraska.
The 27-year-old running back reached the end zone four times over the course of his 42-game tenure with the Cincinnati Bengals, and never more than twice in a season. But despite missing a month worth of football this campaign due to a ribs injury – starting with Sept. 24 against the Houston Texans and ending with Oct. 15 against the New York Jets – Burkhead has crossed the plane for six on seven occasions.
PATRIOTS’ TOTAL TD RANKS
- Seven: Rex Burkhead, Rob Gronkowski
- Five: Dion Lewis, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan
- Four: Mike Gillislee
- Three: James White
- Two: Danny Amendola
- One: Dwayne Allen
In only nine games.
Burkhead posted consecutive multi-touchdown performances versus the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills before getting there once more in the second quarter of Monday night’s 27-20 loss to Miami at Hard Rock Stadium. And with the three-yard plunge out of jumbo personnel, he now has four of New England’s 11 rushing touchdowns after having three in his Bengals career.
He also has three of New England’s 27 receiving touchdowns after having one during his stay in Cincinnati.
TOUCHDOWNS BY YEAR
- 2017: seven in nine games
- 2016: two in 16 games
- 2015: one in 16 games
- 2014: one in nine games
- 2013: none in one game
Drafted No. 190 overall in 2013, Burkhead handled the ball just 16 times through his first two seasons with the Bengals. And while he became an every-game active in both 2015 and 2016, it was special teams first on a depth chart reserved for Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. In relative terms, it still is for Burkhead, who signed a one-year, $3.15 million contract with the Patriots on March 14.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound multipurpose back has played a higher percentage of snaps in the kicking game – 25 percent – than on offense – 19 percent – this year. In addition, he’s blocked a punt, returned a kickoff 17 yards and registered four tackles.
So, the fact Burkhead is averaging a TD every dozen offensive touches says something. The fact he’s made five trips to the end zone in New England’s last three games certainly does, too.
Burkhead has gathered 252 rushing yards on 60 carries. He’s tacked on a career-best 249 receiving yards on 29 catches. And, at least for now, he can say he’s right there with Gronkowski, who served his one-game suspension in defeat Monday.
We’ll see whether one can take the lead outright next Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Not long ago, though, it would’ve been hard to foresee Burkhead even having the chance to.