DENVER — Outside Martellus Bennett, the story heading into the New England Patriots’ Sunday night game against the Denver Broncos was their running backs. Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James White didn’t disappoint in furthering the storyline.
Running back Mike Gillislee, who began the season as the Patriots’ lead early-down back, was a surprise inactive prior to New England’s 41-16 stomping of the Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Gillislee had lost the top job to Lewis, and Burkhead’s emergence as a versatile playmaker made having a fifth running back (including special-teamer Brandon Bolden) unnecessary. So, Gillislee sat. And he might continue to sit, because New England looked just fine at running back without him.
Lewis had 14 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown, plus a 103-yard kick return touchdown. Burkhead carried the ball 10 times for 36 yards, caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown and blocked a punt. White caught three passes for 11 yards with a touchdown and carried the ball twice for 7 yards.
Lewis and White were going to be active regardless, but it’s Burkhead’s versatility and playmaking ability that kept Gillislee off the field. Burkhead can pound the ball up the middle, catch passes out of the backfield and contribute on special teams.
“Whatever phase that is, whatever way the coaches want me to contribute, I’m always going to give it my best,” Burkhead said. “(Sunday night), I thought we were put in very good positions to make plays. We had a great week of preparation and it showed today. …
“That’s the great thing about this team. You’ve got multiple guys playing in all phases. Whatever way we can get that win.”
Burkhead and Lewis’ presence in the offense makes the Patriots more unpredictable.
It seems likely New England will continue to roll with a three-headed back-by-committee. Deactivating Gillislee allowed the Patriots to carry an extra special teams player, and Sunday’s win showed why that was so valuable.
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