FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Running back Rex Burkhead was signed as a free agent in the offseason by the New England Patriots, who hoped his versatility would boost their running attack.

But he has had little impact this season, sidelined since he suffered a rib injury in Week 2 in a 36-20 win at New Orleans, with just 18 yards on five rushes and four catches for 49 yards.

He returned to the lineup Sunday night at Gillette Stadium against the Atlanta Falcons and immediately provided a jolt.

The former Cincinnati Bengal came in for the first time in the second quarter and sparked the offense, leading to a 29-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski that gave New England a 10-0 lead.

Burkhead’s first run went for 9 yards. In fact, he had three 9-yard runs on the drive and had 31 of the Patriots’ 64 yards on the drive.

The Patriots led 17-0 at halftime and Burkhead’s 31 rushing yards were second to Dion Lewis’ 34 in the first half.

NEW ENGLAND’S maligned pass defense, entering the game last in the league in yards allowed and missing two of its top three cornerbacks, had a tremendous first half, limiting Matt Ryan to just 110 passing yards.

LINEBACKER ELANDON Roberts was out of the lineup for the first time this season.

Roberts suffered an ankle injury last week and was not able to recover sufficiently to play. That meant veteran David Harris, who was a healthy scratch for two of the last three games and didn’t play in the third, was back in the lineup against the speedy Atlanta running backs.

Other players on New England’s inactive list were cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle) and Eric Rowe (groin), linebacker Harvey Langi (back), offensive linemen Cam Fleming and Cole Croston and defensive lineman Geneo Grissom.

THE PATRIOTS honored their three Pro Football Hall of Fame members at halftime.

Guard John Hannah, cornerback Mike Haynes and linebacker Andre Tippett were introduced to the crowd by owner Robert Kraft.

TOM BRADY’S parents, Tom Brady Sr. and Galynn, were part of the pre-game Crucial Catch ceremony, the NFL’s cancer awareness campaign. Galynn Brady’s fight with breast cancer was revealed in the lead up to last season’s Super Bowl. Also joining the ceremony were former Patriot guard Joe Andruzzi, a cancer survivor, and Nate Solder’s wife Lexi and son Holden. NBC reported during the game that Holden has resumed chemotherapy treatment for a rare pediatric cancer.

THE PATRIOTS players and coaches donated 200 tickets for military members to attend the game. They stood behind the Patriots’ end zone during pregame warmups, with many Patriots players greeting them. Patriots owner Robert Kraft went down the line shaking their hands.

THE SANFORD Police Department honor guard was part of the pregame ceremonies, presenting the colors during the national anthem along with the honor guards from police departments in Watertown, Massachusetts; Cranston, Rhode Island; Windsor, Vermont; and the Connecticut State Police.

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