FOXBOROUGH — After a breakthrough performance against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday afternoon, Patriots running back Sony Michel was all about the team.
He applauded the offensive line for allowing him to break free for a team-high 117 rushing yards, just 16 shy of his career-high set against the New York Jets in November 2018. He shouted out his fellow backs, Rex Burkhead and J.J. Taylor, for motivating him throughout the team’s 36-20 victory. And he credited the coaches for preparing him during the week.
But even though he was quick to downplay individual glory, there has to be a level of personal satisfaction for Michel to hit his stride.
Through New England’s first two games, Michel’s production had been underwhelming — just 56 yards on 17 carries. In Week 3, the 2018 first-round pick delivered a reminder of what he can contribute. Michel logged his fifth career game with more than 100 rushing yards, and, in the third quarter, scurried for the longest rush of his career. He also caught two passes, one for 14 yards and another for 9.
“You always want to create big plays,” Michel said after the game. “It’s good for our guys to know that we’re capable of doing it. It builds confidence and we want to continue to do it. When we do it, it brings that energy.”
Against the Raiders, New England’s offense got off to a sluggish start, and so did Michel. On the team’s opening drive, he had two carries, one for 4 yards and another for no gain. On the team’s next four drives, his only contribution was a 14-yard reception.
Meanwhile, Taylor, an undrafted rookie, was racking up yardage. At the end of the first half, with the Patriots leading, 13-10, Taylor was the team’s leading rusher with 36 yards on eight carries. The future of Michel’s role was becoming a hot topic of debate, with Taylor proving his worth and Damien Harris soon coming off injured reserve.
The day wasn’t over, though.
Early in the third quarter, Michel weaved through the defense and charged down the field for a 38-yard gain. On the team’s next drive, he found space again and, with three Raiders tailing him, rushed for 48 yards, the longest of his career. The runs helped set up a touchdown and a 32-yard field goal for the Patriots.
“It kind of broke open for me,” said Michel, who only had nine carries. “I felt pretty good out there.”
The stellar showing earned kudos from teammates.
“Sony did a lot of heavy lifting,” quarterback Cam Newton said.
“He was tremendous today,” Burkhead said. “Seeing him develop over the past couple years, what he did today, making guys miss in the open field, really finishing runs, I’m not surprised because I see him practice every single day and I see the work he puts in. I’m as happy as could be for him.”
Burkhead also was quick to point out Michel’s effectiveness in pass protection.
“One of my favorite plays of the game was Sony on a pass protection, just dumping a guy at the end,” he said. “That was an unbelievable job by him because the guy got in the backfield so quick.”
Michel, of course, had plenty of nice things to say about Burkhead and Taylor, too. Without captain James White, who remains away from the team after a car crash killed his father and hospitalized his mother, the unit stepped up.
“Their performance, it motivates me,” Michel said. “It excites me to see those guys’ success.”
The hope is that Sunday isn’t an anomaly. Newton dominated New England’s run game in the season opener, and continued to be the leading rusher last week against the Seattle Seahawks. Week 3, however, gives the Patriots reason to believe they can count on their backs.
“It’s definitely something for us to build off of,” coach Bill Belichick said.
“We want to move forward and build our identity, who we want to be as an offense,” he said. “I think we’re moving towards that.”
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