DETROIT -- The New England Patriots have limited options in the passing game, so it would be nice for them to be able to turn to the rushing attack to help alleviate some of the shortcomings.
That’s why Sunday night against the Detroit Lions had a chance to be rookie running back Sony Michel’s coming-out-party, but instead, it mostly served up a reminder that the first-round draft choice has some ground to make up to getting back to being an explosive playmaker after missing all of the preseason and the regular-season opener.
Michel played 23 of 48 offensive snaps, and had an overall underwhelming night as he was stopped on two different third-and-1 plays in the first half, and dropped a pass in the second half.
No running back can do it on his own -- right guard Shaq Mason's missed block contributed to Michel being dumped in the backfield on one third-and-1 play -– but the Patriots will need more from the 31st overall draft pick in the coming weeks, starting next Sunday at home against the first-place Miami Dolphins (3-0).
“You’re going to face adversity when you’re playing football and it’s all about how you respond,” said Michel, who finished with 50 yards on 12 carries (3.6 average).
In the first half, he had seven carries for 10 yards. The Patriots still stuck with him as their primary option in the second half, over the more experienced James White, who ended up seeing his playing time spike (25 snaps) at the end of the game when the Patriots were clearly in pass-first mode. Veteran running back Rex Burkhead (seven snaps) left the game in the third quarter with a neck injury and never returned.
Michel took no silver lining in being called upon as the Patriots’ lead rusher, saying, “If we aren’t winning games, it isn’t fun. Nothing will make me feel good except for winning games. That’s the purpose, that’s the goal, and that’s what we’re going to work for.”
He also made no excuses about his lack of preseason play affecting his early-season performance as a pass-catcher, saying simply, “I have to execute better. I have to catch the ball.”
Part of the reason the Patriots needed Michel to capture the magic that made him one of the college football’s most potent weapons at Georgia in 2017 is that their passing game is quite predictable right now. As tight end Rob Gronkowski’s brother, Chris, tweeted on Sunday night, once opponents double-cover Gronkowski -- the Lions sometimes treated him as if he was the gunner on the punt team, aligning two defenders immediately over him -- it’s incumbent upon everyone else to get open.
That hasn’t been happening with frequency the past two weeks. The return of receiver Julian Edelman from a four-game NFL suspension should help, and perhaps newly acquired receiver Josh Gordon can help make a difference.
But until that happens, the rushing attack ideally would help settle things down.
That’s why the Patriots need more from Michel.