FOXBORO, Mass. — Who needs Rex Burkhead and James When when you have Dion Lewis? The New England Patriots certainly didn’t Sunday in their 37-16 Christmas Eve win over the Buffalo Bills.
Lewis had the most productive game of his seven-year, tumultuous career in the win, carrying the ball 24 times for 129 yards and a touchdown with five catches on five targets for 24 yards and another touchdown. Lewis was a three-down back for the Patriots. And he was happy to do it.
“Just gotta do what you gotta do for the team,” Lewis said. “Just had to take on a little bit bigger role than I usually have all year, and I embrace it. I love to play. I love to get the ball. Any running back loves getting the ball, so when you get opportunities like that, you just gotta make the most of them.”
The only role the 5-foot-8, 195-pound, small-but-not-little running back didn’t play was goal-line back. That went to Mike Gillislee, coming off a streak of six-straight healthy scratches, who had six carries for 28 yards with a touchdown, himself.
Lewis heaped praise on his teammate, saying he was “so happy” for Gillislee to get in the end zone. Lewis’ teammates paid him the same gratitude, especially tight end Rob Gronkowski, who put on his serious face for this quote on Lewis.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” Gronkowski said after the game. “He’s a beast. For his size, I look up to him. The way he plays, the way he doesn’t let people take him down. It inspires me, because I’m like, ‘If that guy can do that, why can’t I be able to be able to break tackles like that?’ That just shows his inspiration and how hard he plays, how he works. He’s a great dude to have on the team.”
Lewis is listed at 5-foot-8, while Rob Gronkowski is 6-foot-6, but in reality, the tight end is closer to a foot taller than his teammate. Lewis measured in at 5-foot-6 and five-eighths of an inch at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011, while Gronkowski was 6-foot-6 and one-quarter of an inch. Lewis has an impressive ability to run hard and with balance to break tackles and run through contact to pick up extra yards despite his small frame.
That the Patriots have been willing to ride Lewis as their top ball-carrier shows they are no longer concerned about his injury history. Lewis has been in the NFL since 2011, and he’s played just 53 of 110 possible games because of multiple ailments throughout his career.
Lewis began the season low on the Patriots’ totem pole of ball-carriers, but he’s been their top back since Week 6 and hasn’t relinquished the role. He now has 154 carries this season for 803 yards with five touchdowns and 26 catches for 174 yards with two more touchdowns. He needs just 23 yards for his first career 1,000-total-yard season.
Head coach Bill Belichick noted Sunday he has confidence in Lewis to play in “all situations.”
The Patriots have an impressive stable of running backs with Lewis, Gillislee, White and Burkhead. Lewis is clearly the best of the bunch, and the Patriots will continue to ride him heavily through their playoff run.