Dion Lewis is hitting his stride at the perfect time.
Though he’s impressed as the New England Patriots’ No. 1 running back since before the midway point of the regular season, Lewis reached another level entirely in Weeks 16 and 17, racking up 286 yards from scrimmage on 61 touches in lopsided wins over the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
Lewis was the Patriots’ best offensive player in both of those games, scoring four of the team’s seven touchdowns (two rushing, two receiving) while fellow backs James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee all missed time with injuries.
On Sunday, with tight end Rob Gronkowski (zero targets) not part of the game plan and quarterback Tom Brady struggling to connect on deep passes, Lewis practically was New England’s offense against the Jets. He carried the ball 26 times for 93 yards and a touchdown and caught a team-high six passes on seven targets for 40 yards and another score as the Patriots cruised to a 26-6 victory.
“Dion Lewis is a special guy,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday in a conference call. “You know, he’s come back from multiple significant injuries at his position, which is always a challenge, but it’s also a credit to how hard he’s worked to do that. For him to continue to just keep his head down, keep working, keep grinding, battling back through all of those things, to put himself in position to just help our team in any way that he’s been asked to help them, is such a tribute to the kid.
“He’s really a great, great guy to have as a teammate. He works his ass off in practice to prepare himself for the game, and boy, he’s really come on and played his best in the second half of the season this year, which has really helped our football team, helped our offense.”
Next up for the Patriots, who earned a first-round playoff bye, is a divisional-round matchup at Gillette Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans or Buffalo Bills. Lewis had a huge game in last year’s divisional round, scoring a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a kick-return touchdown in a win over the Houston Texans.
“(I’m) really happy for him and excited for what lies ahead for us,” McDaniels said. “Again, he deserves the credit for that, because he kept his head down and kept working and kept grinding, and now he’s really making a big impact for us. It’s great to see. I know everybody’s happy for that. We’re excited to head into the postseason and see what he does there, too.”
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