Lewis makes quiet return after yearlong absence

New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis (33) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers defenders during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis (33) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers defenders during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

BOSTON (AP) — Since arriving in New England last season, running back Dion Lewis has never been one to seek a lot of attention.

So it makes sense that his first NFL game in more than a year came and went just as quietly.

Lewis’ start against the 49ers Sunday was his first since he tore his left ACL in Week 9 against Washington last season. It’s been a long road back, but Lewis said none of that was on his mind when he trotted out onto the Levi’s Stadium field.

“I was just thinking about going out there, trying to execute and making sure I didn’t make mistakes,” he said. “I didn’t really think about it being my first game in a year.”

He didn’t have to wait long to work out any jitters.

On the Patriots’ first offensive play of the game, quarterback Tom Brady looked in Lewis’s direction, but failed to complete a short pass to him in the flat.

Brady tried again two plays later with New England facing a short third down, this time connecting with Lewis on a quick screen for a 9-yard gain to put the Patriots inside San Francisco’s 15. New England scored the game’s first touchdown three plays later.

Last week, coach Bill Belichick alluded to “a certain buildup process” likely being needed for any player coming off as long an absence as Lewis.

Lewis didn’t make it into the end zone Sunday, but rushed five times for 23 yards. He was also targeted five times as a receiver, catching three passes for 26 yards.

It was solid production in game in which he played just 21 of 76 offensive snaps.

“You just have to get used to playing the game,” Lewis said. “My body feels good. I felt the same as I’ve always felt. I just have to get back in a rhythm. The more reps that I get, the more comfortable that I’ll be.”

Lewis was used as New England’s primary pass-catching running back last season before his injury. His absence left those duties at the start of the season to James White, who has already matched the career-best four receiving touchdowns he had in 2015.

That production has been in complement to LeGarrette Blount and his NFL-leading 12 touchdowns.

With Lewis now back in the fold, it gives offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels even more options as the Patriots move deeper into the second half of 2016.

It will also likely mean fewer opportunities at times for all three running backs. But Blount said that is secondary for all of them.

“I love him to death,” Blount said of Lewis. “Our running back group is probably one of the most close-knit groups on the team, and we’re always going to have each other’s back. We don’t care about anything personally when it comes to this game. We just want to win games and show each other support.”

Lewis will likely need a few more games before his involvement in the game plan is at the level it was last season. With one game under his belt he said “there’s nothing to think about anymore” as it pertains to the health of his knee, and that his thoughts are solely about how best he can contribute to the offense.

“It’s challenging, but it can make you or break you,” Lewis said. “The things that I’ve been through in my life prepare me for this moment, and I always push through.”

 

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