Patriots RB Dion Lewis passes test on knee, returns to practice

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis returned to practice Thursday for the first time since opening the regular season on the physically unable to perform list, which officially starts the 21-day clock that the team has to activate him to the 53-man roster.

Lewis' 21-day clock ends Nov. 17, three days before the team's road game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The return to practice naturally represents a sign of progress for Lewis, who initially tore his left ACL on Nov. 8 of last season, returned to practice in June, but then had a setback that led to a follow-up surgery on the knee (not specifically on the ACL). Lewis wasn't wearing a brace at Thursday's full-pads practice.

While the Patriots have an open roster spot, they don't need to use it on Lewis unless they plan to play him in Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills. That would seemingly be a long shot, but with the team's bye week following that game, the idea of getting Lewis two practices this week and then a few practices next week that aren't devoted to game-planning would build a solid foundation for him heading into the team's second-half schedule.

James White has filled in admirably for Lewis in the Patriots' 6-1 start, totaling 27 catches for 244 yards and three touchdowns, to go along with 24 carries for 92 yards (3.8 average).