FOXBORO, Mass. — For the first time this season, the New England Patriots entered Sunday’s game without a third-string running back.
Thanks to Rhamondre Stevenson, they didn’t need one.
New England lost lead back Damien Harris to a hamstring injury before halftime but got an explosive, career-best performance from Rhamondre Stevenson, who rushed for 161 yards on 25 carries as the Patriots blasted the Detroit Lions 29-0 at Gillette Stadium.
Stevenson, who already had a major role in the Patriots’ offense, played every offensive snap after Harris left the game before halftime, touching the ball on nearly half of New England’s offensive plays (27 of 56). His performance garnered a rave postgame review from head coach Bill Belichick.
“You have to give him a ton of credit,” Belichick said. “With Damien out, we only carried two backs for the game, and he put it all on his shoulders and finished with a couple of first downs there at the end of the game in the four-minute offense. He is always good. He does a great job with the ball in his hands. He’s a strong runner, but he can make people miss. He’s a really good football player. Really a good football player. I’m so glad we have him.”
Stevenson averaged 6.4 yards per carry in the win, exploiting a Lions run defense that ranked last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA entering Week 5 and buoying a Patriots offense that was led by third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe. He provided the Patriots’ biggest offensive play when he broke through the right side of the Lions’ defensive line and galloped for 49 yards, running through nearly a half-dozen tackles in the process.
The second-year pro lamented that run after the game, saying he “thought (he) should have scored, to be honest.”
Belichick also praised Stevenson for his work as a pass protector. He’s emerged as the Patriots’ top third-down option with Ty Montgomery on injured reserve.
“Had a couple of blitz pickup plays right up the middle where he stepped up there,” the coach said. “He’s a good all-around back. Love him. Love him.”
Stevenson’s teammates echoed those sentiments.
“Rhamondre played out of his mind today,” defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said.
If Harris’ injury proves significant, the Patriots will need one to mine the lower levels of their running back depth chart in the coming weeks. Rookie Pierre Strong was a healthy scratch Sunday, and J.J. Taylor and Kevin Harris are on the practice squad. None of those three have touched the ball this season. New England also could get Montgomery back from IR as soon as next week, though it’s unclear if he’ll be medically ready to return.
Stevenson, though, looks like a rock-solid starter who should continue to be the Patriots’ top backfield threat even after Harris heals.