Gillislee scores but Lewis carries the load with White, Burkhead out


FOXBORO -- How would the Patriots handle their backs with both Rex Burkhead (knee) and James White (ankle) out injured? Would they keep Dion Lewis in the feature-back role, or would they return to the system they used in 2016 with Mike Gillislee in the LeGarrette Blount big-back role and Lewis used as the sub back?


The answer was made definitively in the first quarter when Lewis received four of the team's first five offensive touches. Before the afternoon was over, he carried 24 times for a career-high 129 yards and caught five passes for 24 yards.

“I just had to take on a little bit bigger of a role than I usually have all year and I embrace it," he said. "I love to play and love to get the ball. When you get opportunities like that you just got to make the most of them. I know we had James and Rex out today, so I was just prepared for anything. I prepare every week the same no matter if I think I’m getting it a lot or if I’m going to get it a lot. I just prepare the same way and it helps me be ready for moments like this."

The exclamation point on Lewis' day was a 12-yard screen pass that he took into the end zone after stepping through a couple of would-be Bills tackles. But he wasn't done. He followed that up with a score four minutes with left to make the score, 37-16.

All the injuries at the position meant were that the Patriots would go to their top back early and often. 

"He's an unbelievable player. He's a beast for his size. I look up to him," Rob Gronkowski said. "The way he plays, the way he doesn't let people take him down inspires me because I'm like, ‘If that guy can do that, why can't I be able to break tackles like that?’ So that just shows his inspiration of how hard he plays, how hard he works and a great dude to have on the team."

Lewis has been the team's best runner all season, and he's taken on a bigger role ever since the Patriots beat the Jets in Week 6. When healthy he's as dynamic a back as the Patriots have had under Bill Belichick because he can run through tackles, juke around them, and catch the ball like a receiver with shorter arms. 

He's put all of those skills on display (when healthy) since he joined the team in 2015, yet teammates still have trouble coming up with ways to describe him.

"He’s been incredible," Tom Brady said. "He got here and no one really knew much about him a few years about and he got an opportunity and took advantage of it and played unbelievable for 10-11 weeks and then got injured and fought really hard last year to get back to full strength and came in this year, and you just can’t say enough good things about him and what he’s done."

"I had to see him in college once before I left Rutgers, and he killed us there," Devin McCourty said. "So, I was excited when we first signed him because I knew what he was able to do. It’s been great seeing him here and being able to kind of do everything on the field -- running between the tackles, run outside, catch the ball."

But Lewis wasn't the only back in the mix on Sunday. For the first time since the bye week, Gillislee was in uniform, and he played a role in the Patriots offense as well, carrying six times for 28 yards and a touchdown. He also caught one pass -- his first reception of the season -- for 15 yards. 

Gillislee has been champing at the bit to get on the field for weeks. He dealt with an illness earlier this month, but he's essentially been a healthy scratch since Week 9, and earlier in the week he knew that playing against his former team on Christmas Eve would get him going emotionally. 

But when he carried, he protected the football, got what was blocked -- and at times more -- and came away with a clean performance that could earn him more work down the line. 

"A guy like Mike has just been itching to get out there and really with the great groups of [running backs] we have and the way they’ve been playing, it’s just challenging to get on the field," Brady said. "There are only so many touches in the game, but he hasn’t said a word. He shows up every day, works his tail off and then got a chance today and really did well and it was great to see it."


Contact Us