Humble Dion Lewis proves worth the wait, invaluable piece of Super Bowl plans

Mike Petraglia
January 15, 2017 - 1:46 am

Dion Lewis was the centerpiece of the Patriots' win Saturday night. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO - This is what Dion Lewis worked so hard for in the spring.

And this is why the Patriots believed in him.

On Saturday night, belief translated into trust for the 5-foot-8, 195-pound running back as he became the first player in NFL history with a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in a single playoff game. Lewis didn't come back from a torn ACL for the seven regular season games he played in at the end of the season.

He came back for what he was able to provide to Tom Brady against the Texans. And the Patriots needed every ounce of his energy in a 34-16 win at Gillette Stadium that propels the Patriots to their sixth straight AFC championship appearance.

It was clear early on that Brady was trying to get Lewis in the game and that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had big plans for him. Why not? The Patriots won all seven regular season games he's played in last season and all seven this year. And now, they are 1-0 with him in the playoffs. That's 15 games without a blemish. 

The Patriots had big, big plans for Lewis Saturday night. Not only did they want him involved in the passing and running game (with LeGarrette Blount recovering from an illness earlier in the week), when the Texans scored their first points of the night, there he was back deep fielding kickoffs.

They obviously felt he was someone they wanted with the ball in his hands all night long in whatever way possible. He was targeted three times in the passing game in the first three series. He finished with two catches on seven targets for 23 yards. He led the team in rushing with 13 carries and 41 yards. He returned three kicks for 124 yards.

"Well, Dion is good with the ball in his hands," Bill Belichick said. "We've seen that multiple times through the last couple of years. He's quick, he's hard to tackle, he's got good balance."

He was all of those and more when he raced 98 yards on the first kick he fielded and made it a 14-3 game in the first quarter. It was the first kickoff return for a score in Patriots playoff history.

"It was a great return and great execution," Lewis said. "The guys made their blocks. All season since I've been back, I knew we'd get one, but just haven't had too many opportunities to take it out with all those deep kicks, but we knew there was going to be opportunities and I hit it. The guys did a great job for me. 

"It's a great feeling. Nothing is guaranteed in this game, everybody knows that so to go to the playoffs and get a win is exciting," Lewis said. "We'll enjoy this the next couple of days and once we figure out who we're going to play, we know we've got a lot of work to do."

He added a 13-yard pass reception in the left flat when he outran speedy linebacker Bernardrick McKinney to the sideline and up the field for the first score of the night. He capped off his night with a one-yard TD plunge in the fourth quarter to essentially seal the game.

But all was not rosy for Lewis Saturday. He fumbled twice that helped keep the Texans close. So, what did Lewis think of his historic accomplishment?

"I feel like this is my worst game ever, actually," Lewis said. "The fumbles. I put my team in a bad position. I don't think this was my best game."

Why?

"That's just how I am," Lewis answered. "I never worry about the good stuff. I'm supposed to do stuff like that. My teammates trust me to do stuff like that. I'm worried about trying to get better and keep working to help my team next week."

That is the prototypical answer from a Patriot player who gets it. Lewis wasn't oozing bravado after the game. He was letting the humility of two fumbles keep him balanced.

The first fumble came on the next kickoff return after his touchdown. It gave the Texans the ball at the Patriots 12 and set up Houston's only touchdown of the night. The other was a fumble in Houston territory as the Patriots were driving. Patriots offensive lineman Joe Thuney saved his bacon by recovering the ball at the Texans 24. Stephen Gostkowski followed with a field goal that capped off the scoring.

"I know what I've got to do," Lewis said of his fumbles. "I can't tell you but I know what I have to do. It's fixable, I know that. And I'm going to do whatever I can. Because if I don't, I'm not going to play so I'll get it fixed.

"We won. The most important thing, we won."

And the Patriots won because Lewis was the spark the Patriots needed on this night not to be stalled by a fierce Texans defense. That was never more evident than when the bench rushed to greet Lewis after his 98-yard scamper to pay dirt.

"Oh, it gets us going. I was happy he had enough gas to finish it off," Devin McCourty said. "But we know him back there in the open field, he's tough tackle. He made a great play. Any time you can score points and not be on offense, it gives the team a huge boost. That was a big play for us. We've just got to build off that and special teams. We work on these things every week, so it was good just to see it pay off and get a big return like that."

All those hard days in the spring and the setback of having his knee cleaned up finally paid dividends for Lewis and the Patriots Saturday.  

"Yeah, he's one of our guys. He's a key guy on this team. In college he played in the Big East, man," Rutgers alum McCourty said of Lewis' Pitt Panther roots. "They make us tough. He did a great job I think just working all offseason, giving himself a chance to, when called on, be ready to go, and he's a veteran player now. He understands what it takes to play in these games. I think as a teammate you're just happy to see him out there and looking good and creating big plays for us."

"Yeah, he's worked extremely hard," Belichick said of Lewis. "There's no question about that. He's worked extremely hard. He was working really hard last year at this time when the team was at the end of the season and in the playoffs last year. This year he has an opportunity to play. I'm happy for him. He's worked hard. He earned it."