FOXBOROUGH — Julian Edelman calls him “Jitterbug.” Tedy Bruschi prefers “Squirty.”
Whatever the moniker, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Dion Lewis is the most dynamic running back at Bill Belichick’s disposal, a blinding mix of pure speed and uncanny elusiveness who can no longer be confined by the label “pass-catching specialist.”
Lewis juked and jived his way to 112 yards on 15 carries in New England’s 35-17 win over Miami on Sunday, eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the first time in his five-year career.
In his usual manner, Lewis downplayed the significance of personal accomplishments, opting instead to complement the group of Patriots in the trenches who were tasked with keeping Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, and Co. at bay.
“Absolutely nothing,” Lewis said of what it meant to finally break the 100-yard barrier. “The O-line did a great job blocking all game. Their front seven is great. They’ve got Cameron Wake, Suh of course, so you definitely have to mix [the running game] in. You can’t just let those guys pass rush because no matter how good your line is, when you have guys like that, you’re going to get some pressure.”
Looking to add to a 7-0 lead and pinned at its 12, New England turned to Lewis, the 5-foot-8-inch lightning rod nimbly hopping over a fallen defender and turning on the jets for a 22-yard scamper.
The run wasn’t Lewis’s longest of the afternoon — he peeled off 25 on New England’s final scoring drive, narrowly missing a touchdown as he bounded down the left sideline — but it proved emblematic of his value in Josh McDaniels’s offense, able to flip field position in the blink of an eye.
Lewis flaunts a jaw-dropping ability to make defenders miss in open space, be it by spinning, jumping, or simply outhustling the opposition. Durability, however, has been Lewis’s Kryptonite, the University of Pittsburgh alum time and again tantalizing fans with his exploits before suffering a setback.
In 2015, his first year in New England, Lewis suffered a torn ACL, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. Though he initially appeared to be on the mend, a stress point developed in Lewis’s kneecap, prompting a patella fracture that sidelined him until mid-November of the following season.
Though he won’t offer a full clean bill of health, it’s clear Lewis is once again feeling confident in his body. Averaging just three runs a game through the first quarter of the season, Lewis has received handoff totals in the double digits in New England’s last six games, his 4.7 yards per carry a team high.
“My job is just to protect the ball and make plays,” he said. “That’s my job in this offense and that’s what I try to do every game.
“All [of our] running backs are versatile. Everybody can run, they can catch, and they can block. We just have to complement each other and try to play balanced.”
Sunday, it was backfield mate Rex Burkhead hogging the touchdowns. In past weeks, McDaniels has called upon James White to receive the brunt of red-zone snaps, or Mike Gillislee as a goal-line back. This wealth of running back options could have discouraged Lewis.
Then again, “discouraged” isn’t in Lewis’s working vocabulary.
“We push each other all the time,” he said. “We’re always around each other. Of course we compete, but we’re the first people to cheer each other on when somebody makes a play.”
Fresh off a breakout performance of his own, Burkhead assumed the role of cheerleader while discussing his partner in crime, even weaving in the nickname Edelman uses.
“It’s unbelievable,” Burkhead said of Lewis. “He’s a jitterbug out there and he’s still physical as well.
“He did a tremendous job today. He was making guys miss, finishing runs, and really just giving this offense a spark of energy. It’s fun to watch and all of the running backs really enjoy it.”
Owen Pence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.