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2018 NFL free agency: Farewell to Patriots running back Dion Lewis

The running back had his ups and down, but his ups were pretty incredible.

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots
When Dion Lewis was on the field, he never failed to impress.
Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

In case you missed my first tribute for Danny Amendola, check it out here.

In what has been a brutal offseason and free agency period for the Patriots, there has been much, much more discussion about the departing players than the arriving players. That’s mostly because everybody and their mother is bolting town, while the Pats haven’t really brought anybody in (other than Jason McCourty via trade, who now gets to play alongside his twin brother Devin … small world, isn’t it?).

Running back Dion Lewis is among those who walked away for the opportunity to make more money, signing a four-year deal with the Titans worth $20 million. The Lewis era in New England was short-lived, but he definitely made the most of his opportunities on the field when he was healthy ... with those last four words being the key words.

Lewis was brought to New England before the 2015 season and worked his way onto the roster. He filled in for the suspended LeGarrette Blount in the season opener against Pittsburgh – his first game in two years – and recorded 120 yards from scrimmage. How about that for an out-of-nowhere performance, eh? He continued to “wow” Pats fans for most of the 2015 season, but a torn ACL in November put him down for the remainder of the year in a season in which the Patriots were losing players to injury left and right.

I had to constantly remind myself that the Pats had just won the Super Bowl the previous year, but I’m not sure there was a more disappointing and distressing moment during that season than when Dion Lewis went down with a torn ACL. Well, maybe other than Stephen Gostkowski’s missed PAT in the AFC Championship Game in Denver, but that’s a column for another day.

Dion’s 2016 season wasn’t exactly ideal either, considering he didn’t even play until November following a second knee surgery. But he regained his “wow” factor in the divisional playoff round against the Texans, when he became the first player in the Super Bowl era to score touchdowns on a run, a reception and a kickoff return in the same playoff game. That was the Dion Lewis we hoped and prayed we would someday see again.

In 2017 – his final season with the Patriots – Lewis earned our love and respect all over again. Midway through the season, he became the primary runner on first and second downs, and consistently found himself accumulating more carries and rushing yards.

Some of his highlights:

- In Week 10, Lewis had a 103-yard kickoff return touchdown against the Broncos on Sunday Night Football.

- In Week 12, Lewis notched a career-high 112 yards on the ground against Miami.

- In Week 16, Lewis recorded a new-career high of 129 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout win over the Bills. It was his first game with multiple rushing touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 24 yards and a touchdown.

- In the last game of the regular season, Lewis recorded 93 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown, and six receptions – including a touchdown – for 40 yards against the Jets.

Amazingly, the 2017 season was the first time Lewis appeared in all 16 regular season games. So just imagine the career he could’ve had to this point if he hadn’t had an unfortunate string of injuries holding him back.

Dion left his final mark on New England in the AFC Championship Game against the Jaguars, rushing for 18 yards on third-and-9 for a first down late in the fourth quarter, which all but wrapped up the game for the Patriots to send them to Super Bowl 52.

(By the way, that’s all we’ll say about Super Bowl 52.)

I think the best phrase to sum up Dion Lewis’ tenure in New England is “up and down.” After all, he had his ups and downs just like every player. But when he was having his ups … man, he was a heck of a player to watch.

Good luck in Tennessee, Dion. You’ll be missed.