FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots didn’t need an all-world effort from Tom Brady to put away the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night. Their quartet of talented running backs took care of that.
Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, James White and the newly healthy Rex Burkhead combined for 157 rushing yards on 31 carries, and Brady chipped in with 5 rushing yards of his own as the Patriots bulldozed the Falcons 23-7 at Gillette Stadium.
Lewis spearheaded New England’s ground attack for the third consecutive week. He carried the ball 13 times for a game-high 76 yards — the highest single-game total by any Patriots back this season.
The Patriots’ 162 total rushing yards also represented a new season high for the team, smashing the previous high of 124 set back in Week 1.
“The running game definitely helps the whole team,” Lewis said after the game. “It helps out in the passing game. It’s just great. It’s a big part of what we’re trying to do.”
Lewis, an afterthought on offense early in the season, continued to impress. He now has gained 181 yards on the ground over the past three weeks after totaling 41 over the Patriots’ first four games, using his unique blend of elusiveness, speed and power to slice through opposing defenses.
“Whatever it takes to break tackles and make plays, man,” the 5-foot-8 scatback said. “I’m not being a one-trick pony. I’m small, but I ain’t little.”
An already crowded Patriots backfield got even busier Sunday with the return of Burkhead, who missed the previous four weeks with injured ribs. Burkhead carried the ball six times for 31 yards — all of which came on one second-quarter drive — caught one pass for 11 yards and also played on special teams in his first game back.
“It was definitely great to be back out there with the guys,” Burkhead said. “It’s a great team win (Sunday night) in all phases. … It was a little different just being out of it for the past few weeks, but just fun to be back out there with the guys.”
Gillislee also chipped in with 31 yards on eight carries, and White rushed three times for 17 yards while catching five passes on five targets for 28 yards. The well-rounded performance was an example of just how dangerous and multifaceted this Patriots running back group can be — and how tough the competition for touches will be moving forward.
“I just try to prove it every time — prove that I deserve to be out there,” Lewis said. “That’s the only way. We’ve got a great group of backs. Everybody is going to make plays. But you’ve just got to go out there and prove your worth.
“If you want the ball more, you’ve got to prove it. You can’t go out there and not make no plays.”
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images