FOXBORO, Mass. — Dion Lewis on Saturday night became the first player in NFL history to rush for a touchdown, catch a touchdown pass and return a kickoff for a touchdown in a playoff game. His monumental touchdown trifecta helped propel the New England Patriots past the Houston Texans and into the AFC Championship Game for the sixth consecutive year.
But when Lewis addressed the media after the Patriots’ 34-16 victory at Gillette Stadium, he was fixated on a different statistic: his two fumbles, one of which the Texans recovered and turned into seven points.
Frustration over his miscues — and others made by the team as a whole — prevented the running back from fully enjoying his otherwise wildly productive postseason debut.
“I did OK,” said Lewis, who did not find the end zone in seven regular-season games after returning from knee surgery in Week 11. “There are some things I could do a lot better on — protect the ball. I put my team in jeopardy. I’ve got to work on that this week.”
Lewis did exhibit less-than-stellar ball security in a few instances, but overall, he was a dynamic, play-making force.
He blazed past Texans linebacker Benardrick McKinney to score New England’s first touchdown — a 13-yard catch-and-run off a swing pass from quarterback Tom Brady. Then, after Houston got on the board with a field goal, Lewis took a Nick Novak kickoff 98 yards to the house, breaking a tackle at his own 30-yard line and sprinting the rest of the way untouched.
It was the first postseason kick-return touchdown in Patriots history.
“It was a great return and great execution,” Lewis said. “The guys made their blocks. All season since I’ve been back, I knew we’d get one, but (we) just haven’t had too many opportunities to take it out with all those deep kicks. But we knew there were going to be opportunities, and I hit it. The guys did a great job for me.”
Brady, who targeted Lewis on seven of his 38 passes, called the return touchdown “a huge play.”
Lewis, who accounted for all but one of the Patriots’ touchdowns in the win, capped his three-score showing by plowing his way into the end zone from 1 yard out early in the fourth quarter. That stretched New England’s lead to 31-16 and effectively put the Texans — who’d hung around for three quarters thanks to blunders by the Patriots’ offense and special teams — out of their misery.
“He’s a phenomenal football player and a great asset to our team,” Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman said. “It’s great to have him out there.”
Containing Lewis surely will be a point of emphasis for New England’s AFC title game opponent. That will be either the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Kansas City Chiefs, who are set to square off Sunday night in the AFC’s other divisional-round matchup.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images