NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots outside linebacker Matt Judon (9) jogs on the field prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium.

It was a very Merry Christmas for Kendrick Bourne, as the Patriots wide receiver cleared the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols on Saturday afternoon.

Now, Bourne can suit up for Sunday’s massive game with the Bills. If New England wins, it will clinch the AFC East championship. If Buffalo wins, the teams will be tied at 9-6, with Buffalo holding the tie-breaker as the season enters its final two weeks.

Bourne was placed on the reserve list Monday, but because he’s vaccinated, he was able to test out and return in time. Unvaccinated players have a mandatory 10-day quarantine. The wide receiver was eager to share his good news, hopping on social media early Saturday afternoon.

“Juss (sic) got the best Christmas news ever,” Bourne tweeted.

The Patriots could have been exceptionally thin at wide receiver without Bourne. Nelson Agholor remains in the concussion protocol — he’s been ruled out — while N’Keal Harry is questionable with a new hip injury.

There were a number of other moves the Patriots made on Saturday afternoon, per the NFL’s transaction wire.

It wasn’t all good Christmas news, as Deatrich Wise Jr. landed on the COVID-19 list. Wise has played 52% of the defensive snaps this season and hit opposing quarterbacks eight times. Because the defensive lineman’s vaccination status is unknown, it’s unclear how long he’ll be sidelined.

Linebacker Josh Uche was activated off injured reserve — he’d been sidelined since the Browns game with an ankle injury — while WR Kristian Wilkerson, DT Daniel Ekuale, and CB DeAngelo Ross were all elevated from the practice squad.

Meanwhile, Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson was ruled out for the game against the Bills as he’s going on COVID-19 reserve.

The Pats officially shelved Stevenson after he missed every practice this week due to an illness. The fourth-round rookie last played 46% of the team’s offensive snaps in a loss at Indianapolis and hasn’t been seen since. Stevenson’s rushed for 465 yards and three touchdowns this season and earned a greater offensive role, to the point he’s been splitting carries with Damien Harris the last month and a half.

Without him, the Patriots are down to Harris, Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor in the backfield. Harris is questionable for Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.

If he’s vaccinated, Stevenson could return for next week’s kickoff versus Jacksonville. If he’s unvaccinated, the fourth-round rookie cannot play until the Patriots’ regular-season finale at Miami on Jan. 9.

Here’s the full list of Patriots currently in the COVID-19 protocols: RB Rhamondre Stevenson, LB Harvey Langi, LB Cameron McGrone, LB Ronnie Perkins, TE Dalton Keene, OL Yasir Durant, DL Deatrich Wise Jr.

Bills also dealing with COVID

The Buffalo Bills are dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 at the absolute worst time.

Already depleted at wide receiver and on the offensive line, the Bills learned Friday their situation is getting worse, as receiver Gabriel Davis and guard Cody Ford were placed on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list.

Davis joins Cole Beasley among receivers on the list and Ford joins Dion Dawkins and Jon Feliciano among offensive linemen. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa also is on the COVID list. Linebacker Tyrel Dodson was activated from the list Thursday, but the Bills could still potentially be without six key members of their 53-man roster for the biggest game of the season.

As unvaccinated players, Beasley and Davis are definitely out. ESPN reported Friday that Davis is unvaccinated. That’s a big loss for the offense.

Unvaccinated players are required to isolate for 10 days, meaning Davis also will miss the Week 17 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Beasley would have a chance to return for that game if he’s asymptomatic. He seemed relatively unbothered by his situation in a post Thursday night on Instagram.

The Bills’ absences against the Patriots aren’t only related to COVID. Along the defensive line, Star Lotulelei missed a second consecutive practice Friday for personal reasons and was ruled out Saturday for Sunday’s game.

Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said special teams coordinator Heath Farwell and defensive line coach Eric Washington are also being placed on the list. Assistant special teams coach Matt Smiley will take over Farwell’s duties against the Patriots.

Chris Mason, masslive.com, Andrew Callahan, Boston Herald, and Jay Skurski, The Buffalo News contributed to this report.