DENVER — Fresh and clean, the dirt and grass stains of a hard day’s work rinsed away, Dion Lewis sunk his feet into a pair of plush gray Yeezy 750 sneakers, the kind with the light-up soles. On one foot, a green sock with black skulls was pulled up above his ankle.
“That’s just my swag, though, you see,” Lewis said.
It’s not a lucky sock, not something Lewis wears every game day, but on Sunday morning it felt like the right choice.
“Skulls. That’s just the mode I was in today,” Lewis said.
Lewis doesn’t need colorful socks or glow-in-the-dark footwear to draw attention to his feet, but he certainly deserves to rest them however he sees fit. The Patriots running back trotted, danced, and pranced his way to 95 yards on 18 rushing attempts against the Broncos, both career highs, and added 9 yards on two catches and 23 yards on a kickoff return. He led a Patriots run game that helped sustain drives in a game in which big plays were hard to come by.
Lewis, in his fifth game following his recovery from ACL surgery, didn’t think he would get that much work going into the game.
“But every week I prepare as if I’m going to be the guy no matter what the situation is so I’m always going to be ready, so today just happened to be my day,” he said.
Since Lewis’s return, LeGarrette Blount has retained his role as the top running option.
Blount still got 17 carries Sunday, but he was unable to pound away to his usual degree and gained only 31 yards. He still rammed through the Patriots’ lone touchdown, breaking Curtis Martin’s franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 15, but Blount wasn’t used until the Patriots’ seventh offensive snap of the game, which came on their third drive.
Instead, facing a thinned-out Broncos interior linebacking corps that was missing Brandon Marshall and relying on an injured Corey Nelson, the Patriots’ smaller, shiftier backs were given the unusual task of attacking the middle.
Lewis was up for the challenge and ran for a healthy 5.3 yards per carry. It was his day, he said, but he’d be just as happy to see Blount pushing the piles next week.
“That’s just being competitive,” Lewis said. “As running backs we’re a close group and we all want to do good when we’re out there, we all cheer for each other. It’s a tight family in the running back group. Today it just happened to be me but the other two guys did a great job as well and came up huge as well.”
At that point, Blount leaned over from the locker next to Lewis’s and popped his head in front of his more diminutive teammate. “Five yards away from 100! Couldn’t get 5 yards,” Blount chirped playfully.
Lewis deadpanned and continued to answer questions, accustomed to his stocky partner’s antics. He said he’s still noticing physical improvement every week, and Tom Brady said after the game that Lewis certainly looked like himself Sunday.
“It was great to see him make the moves that we’re used to seeing him make,” Brady said. “That’s the way it goes when you come back from some pretty tough injuries. It just takes some time to get acclimated. He has done a great job for us.”
The Denver defense presented an opportunity for the Patriots’ ground game to get going. The Broncos, despite boasting the top overall defense in the AFC and the best passing defense in the NFL, entered the game with the No. 29 run defense.
The Patriots responded by running the ball 39 times while throwing it 34 times, counting the two plays on which Brady was sacked.
With Brady at quarterback, the Patriots have run the ball more than 50 percent of the time just once this season, at Pittsburgh in Week 7. The split in that game was 26 passes and 29 rushes, five of which came from Brady himself.
Coach Bill Belichick couldn’t help but note the difference from last year’s AFC Championship game when the Patriots, missing both Lewis and Blount, managed only 44 yards on the ground.
“It was a lot different than the last time we played them,” Belichick said. “At least we got to run forward instead of backward.”
Just five games into his personal season, Lewis is still feeling the high of just getting to play again. Part of why he isn’t worried about his snaps or touches is because not long ago his task was just getting back on the field.
“Hey, I’ll take five plays if I . . . I just want to play,” Lewis said. “That’s what I love to do, is play football, so just playing is a blessing for me.”
With pass catchers such as Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola missing, five plays might not cut it if the Patriots need their ground game to carry them through the playoffs. So rest those feet, Dion. You’re going to need them.