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Patriots protect four members of practice squad heading into season finale, including Kristian Wilkerson

Wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson headlines New England’s protections.

Patriots Practice Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

For the final week of the NFL regular season, the New England Patriots elected to utilize practice squad protections for the first time.

New England did so for wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson, tight end Matt LaCosse, defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale and safety Sean Davis, according to the NFL transaction wire.

The four protections, which mark the league’s weekly maximum under the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, will not be eligible to join another organization’s 53-man roster ahead of the finale. All four have either served as standard elevations or Covid-19 replacements this season for a 10-6 Patriots team that now stands with playoff berth.

Wilkerson, 24, notched his first career start last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It brought four catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns for the Southeast Missouri State product, who saw 60 offensive snaps. A member of the Tennessee Titans’ 2020 undrafted class, Wilkerson signed to New England’s practice squad at its formation heading into his rookie campaign.

LaCosse, 29, made his 2021 debut against the Cleveland Browns in November after opting out of last season due to Covid-19 concerns. The 2015 undrafted free agent out of Illinois had stints with the New York Giants, New York Jets and Denver Broncos before agreeing to terms with New England. Eight starts, 13 receptions, 131 yards and one touchdown followed in 2019.

Ekuale, 27, played a season-high 22 defensive snaps during his most recent call-up. It would be the sixth game for Ekuale since he signed to the Patriots’ practice squad in September. Those games have featured five tackles to go with two sacks for the Washington State alum, who went undrafted in 2018 and accrued prior years between Jacksonville and Cleveland.

Davis, 28, was elevated against the Bills in December and played five downs in the secondary. The 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers second-round pick from Maryland previously appeared in four games this year for the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts before arriving October. Through 42 career starts, Davis has totaled 2.5 sacks, five interceptions, one forced fumble and two recoveries.

Quarterback Garrett Gilbert, outside linebacker Tashawn Bower, kicker Riley Patterson and punter Corliss Waitman were signed off the practice squad over the course of 2021.

The Miami Dolphins host New England for a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff next Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.