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Patriots tailback Dion Lewis’ restoration on display vs. Jets

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Dion Lewis handled 11 carries on Sunday, his most since January’s divisional round.

New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Dion Lewis had eight carries for 28 yards and no touchdowns through the first three weeks of the campaign.

He’s had 22 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns over the last three.

On Oct. 1 against the Carolina Panthers, Lewis hit the end zone for his first regular-season rushing touchdown since 2015. Four days later against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 27-year-old running back logged the longest carry – 31 yards – of his NFL career. And on Sunday afternoon against the New York Jets, the upswing continued for a guy who arrived on a reserve-futures contract only a few New Year’s Eves ago.

Lewis led the New England Patriots’ backfield with 11 carries in what was once a 14-0 deficit at MetLife Stadium. He led with 52 yards on the ground, too, and walked away with his second score since the month began by the time it was a 24-17 win.

Power back Mike Gillislee collected 44 yards on 10 runs with a fumble for the Patriots, and primary pass-catcher James White gathered 23 yards on three runs to go with four receptions for an additional 23. Yet it was Lewis, the starter, who looked like the most dynamic runner at the offense’s disposal.

He had himself his fifth game with north of 50 rushing yards dating back to 2011.

50-PLUS RUSHING YARDS

  • Jan. 1, 2012: 12 carries for 58 yards, touchdown
  • Sept. 10, 2015: 15 carries for 69 yards
  • Dec. 18, 2016: 18 carries for 95 yards
  • Dec. 24, 2016: 16 carries for 52 yards
  • Oct. 15, 2017: 11 carries for 52 yards, touchdown

“I thought Dion ran hard, ran well,” head coach Bill Belichick said in his postgame press conference, via Patriots.com. “Mike ran hard. I thought both backs – I mean, this is probably as good as we’ve run the ball against these guys, especially out of regular sets, in a while. I thought Josh [McDaniels] called a great game. We ran outside, ran inside, ran back outside, so I thought we had some balance there.”

And the ex-Philadelphia Eagle, Cleveland Brown and Indianapolis Colt got the chance to help strike that balance.

Tom Brady hadn’t handed the ball off to Lewis 11-plus times since last January’s AFC divisional round, when the 5-foot-8, 195-pounder had 13 carries for 41 yards and a touchdown, two catches for 23 yards and a touchdown, as well as three kickoff returns for 123 yards and a 98-yard touchdown.

“He ran great,” Brady said of Lewis on Sunday. “I mean, he’s gaining confidence every week. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him, so it was great to see.”

Which made the month of September all the more curious for Lewis: Why hadn’t the Pittsburgh product been seen much?

In Week 1 versus the Kansas City Chiefs, Lewis earned just two carries. In Week 2 versus the New Orleans Saints, he earned four to pair with a reception. In Week 3 versus the Houston Texans, he earned two to pair with three receptions. Altogether? Thirty-two offensive snaps and a dozen offensive touches.

Gameplan or otherwise, it was workload that No. 33 had seemed to outperform.

What kept the ball mostly out of his hands in September remains unclear as October rolls on. It could have been Gillislee, White and a healthy Rex Burkhead. It could have been something else. But Lewis is two years removed from a torn ACL now, he’s looking as elusive as he was before it, and it seems the coaching staff is letting him loose as if that is indeed the case.

Nine of Lewis’ scampers opposite the New York front transpired on first down. Five of his 11 total carries gained seven yards or more.

CARRIES VS. JETS

  • First-and-10: nine yards
  • Second-and-1: one yard
  • First-and-10: one yard
  • First-and-10: three yards
  • First-and-10: nine yards
  • Second-and-1: nine yards
  • First-and-10: two yards
  • First-and-goal: one yard, touchdown
  • First-and-10: 11 yards
  • First-and-10: seven yards
  • First-and-10: minus-one yards

“Even if you’re not getting the ball, just to be out there again getting used to the gameflow, that’s pretty big,” Lewis told reporters in the visiting locker room afterwards. “Whether it’s a series here, series there – whenever my number is called, I got to be ready to make a play. I just got to show that I’m capable, and I feel like whenever I get a chance to do that, I got to prove it.”

Lewis is up to 151 rushing yards and two scores on 30 carries through six games. He’s got 42 receiving yards on seven catches, and has fielded eight kickoffs for 156 return yards over that span.

One would think Lewis’ ground opportunities will keep ascending in the weeks to come, though one never truly knows in a matchup-based committee that fluctuates like the Dow Jones. He may not be the top short-yardage or out-of-the-backfield option on the depth chart, but he presents the biggest pound-for-pound threat the Patriots have.

Lewis showed why on early downs in East Rutherford.