EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Mike Gillislee’s loss Sunday was Dion Lewis’ gain.
Gillislee served as the New England Patriots’ primary early-down running back for the first five weeks of the NFL season, but after he lost a fumble early in the team’s Week 6 matchup with the New York Jets, head coach Bill Belichick stapled him to the bench for almost two full quarters.
Lewis, who actually started the game before giving way to Gillislee on New England’s second possession, took full advantage of his teammate’s error and the uptick in playing time that accompanied it. He played a season-high 29 snaps and carried the ball 11 times for a game-high 52 yards and a touchdown to help the Patriots rally for a 24-17 victory at MetLife Stadium.
“Whenever you get a chance, you’ve got to make plays,” Lewis said after the game. “That’s my job whenever my number’s called — to make plays. So I’m just happy I was able to go out there and play, move around a little bit and help my team.”
Lewis had played just 64 offensive snaps all season entering Sunday, compared to 117 for Gillislee and 182 for pass-catching back James White. He led all Patriots backs in yards per carry over the first five games, though, leading many to believe it was only a matter of time before his role expanded, especially after he showed flashes in last week’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Against the Jets, Lewis employed his patented jump cuts to evade several Jets defenders, showcasing the quickness and elusiveness that made him such a weapon early in his Patriots tenure. His touchdown came on a 1-yard plunge — the kind of carries the Patriots typically give to Gillislee.
“He ran great,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “He’s gaining confidence every week. He ran with a lot of confidence in himself. It was great to see.”
Though he spent most of the game on the sideline, Gillislee actually ran the ball well, too, his ball-security slip-up notwithstanding. He finished with 44 yards on 10 carries despite playing just 11 snaps. White chipped in with three carries for 23 yards and the Patriots finished with 118 rushing yards as a team — their most in a game against the Jets since 2012.
“I thought Dion ran hard, ran well,” Belichick said. “Mike ran hard. I thought both backs (did). This is about as good as we’ve run the ball against (the Jets), especially in regular sets, in a while.”
Will we see Lewis play a larger role in the Patriots’ offense moving forward? He certainly seems deserving of more touches.
Asked after the game whether he feels like he’s playing as well as he did in 2015, when he burst onto the scene for the Patriots before tearing his ACL mid-season, he simply smiled and replied, “I mean, you watched the game, right?”
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images