FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots and Dion Lewis suffered a tough blow when it was revealed Monday that the energetic running back was lost for the season a day after suffering a torn left ACL in Sunday's 27-10 win over the Redskins at Gillette Stadium.
Lewis was placed on injured reserve, but no corresponding move was made.
The 5-foot-8-inch, 195-pound dynamo was felled by the noncontact injury midway through the third quarter. Lewis had just caught a pass from Tom Brady when he started weaving his way through the secondary. He pulled up and appeared to grab for his knee before falling to the turf.
There was reason for optimism when Lewis walked off on his own after being attended to by teammates and trainers — though he was visibly upset as he received a hug and words of encouragement from defensive coordinator Matt Patricia before heading to the locker room.
An MRI revealed the worst fears for Lewis and the Patriots.
Lewis, who had added a jolt to an already electric offense, was second on the team with 49 carries for 234 yards. More important, he had become a versatile and valuable target for Brady, lining up everywhere and catching 36 passes for 388 yards. He had two touchdowns rushing and two receiving.
The first-year Patriot was an extremely popular presence in the locker room, as he was on the field.
He drew large crowds of media to his locker and lots of ribbing from teammates during those sessions.
Lewis, who had been on the practice report in recent weeks with an abdominal injury, signed a two-year, $5 million contract extension in October. He said at the time that he looked forward to rewarding the Patriots for the contract by producing on the field. That mission is now on hold until next season.
Lewis sent out a tweet Monday night that read, "I just want to say thank you to everyone who has reached out to me. The amount of love and support has been much appreciated!! I'll do everything in my power to come back like I never left!!!"
Lewis, who had recovered from a leg injury during training camp, emerged as the winner of a three-man summer competition with James White and Travaris Cadet to fill the third-down-back role formerly held by Shane Vereen, who left as a free agent.
Lewis quickly proved to be more than just a third-down back, however, collecting 69 rushing yards and 51 receiving yards in the opening-night win over the Steelers.
In Lewis's absence Sunday, the Patriots leaned on LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden, and both stepped up in a major way.
Blount rushed a career-high 29 times for 129 yards and a touchdown. Bolden had three catches for 27 yards and his first career receiving touchdown, and added one rush for 12 yards.
Additional candidates to fill in will be second-year back White and several free agents, including Cadet, who was released in September, and recent Steelers castoff Dri Archer.
"It's an unfortunate situation for [Lewis]," said White, who was a healthy scratch Sunday. "He's given our team a lot of great performances each and every week, so I pray for him, and us running backs will have to step up."
White, who does his best work in space, has improved his strength and balance during the preseason and his limited regular-season experience. He lacks Lewis's explosiveness and power, but has done a better job of shaking off first contact.
White thinks the Patriots will lean on everyone and believes he is ready to carry a larger role.
"Somebody has to pick up the slack,'' White said. "He's been producing very well for us. Whether it's Brandon, whether it's LG, we have to step up.''
White said the "next man up" mentality is a must.
"I think everybody practices like they're the starter, like they're going to be playing 100 snaps every game,'' said White, a fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin in 2014. "When you get your opportunity, no matter how many snaps it is, we go out there and we try to do whatever we can to move the chains.''
The 5-10, 205-pound White, who has seven carries and seven receptions this season, said when he gets his chance, it's important to remember to stick to his style.
"You can't be Superman and do exactly what [Lewis] was doing,'' he said. "I'll do whatever I can. My role might be different to what his role is. You never know what it is. Whatever I have to do, I'll do.''
Cadet impressed during the summer until he suffered a hamstring injury. He made the original 53-man roster and had one catch for 2 yards against the Bills. He has 46 career receptions for 347 yards.
Archer was mostly a special teams player in parts of two seasons in Pittsburgh, but he did draw rave reviews from Belichick before the opener.
The coach called the 5-8, 175-pounder a "very, very fast, explosive player, dynamic with the ball in his hands, but shows some toughness in blitz pickup.''