Dion Lewis makes case for lead role, 'it's going to keep getting better'

Dion Lewis ran for 52 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries Sunday. Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It’s been almost two full years since New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis first tore his ACL and then experienced a setback prior to 2016 training camp, but Sunday’s 24-17 victory over the New York Jets might be the most clear-cut evidence that he’s back to his old self.

Does he agree with that assessment?

“You watched the game,” he said with a charming sort of confidence. “I feel good. I’m sure there are things I can do better, but it’s going to keep getting better.”

Lewis finished with 52 yards on 11 carries and one touchdown, but the more important number was 29. That was his total offensive snaps played, which was easily a season high and marked the first time he led all Patriots rushers in snaps played in a game.

James White, who plays in more passing situations, finished with 28, while Mike Gillislee had just 12. Gillislee’s lost fumble in the first quarter earned him a 34-snap stretch on the bench.

For Lewis, it was the opportunity he’s been waiting for after playing six, 14, 12, 14 and 18 snaps over the first five games of the season.

“It was frustrating, but I just came to work every day and knew I was going to get a chance," he said. "I didn’t know when, but I vowed to myself that when I do get a chance, I’m going to prove myself.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick commended Lewis for his hard running, noting that Sunday's effort was as well as the Patriots have run the ball against the Jets out of their regular offensive sets in a while.

“We ran outside, ran inside, ran back weakside, so we had some balance there,” Belichick said, crediting the offensive line, tight ends and fullback James Develin (24 snaps), as well.

As for what this means next Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons, the 5-foot-8, 195-pound Lewis would obviously welcome an increased workload. He said there’s no doubt he feels better physically than he did in 2016.

“Just to be out there, I love to play. Just to get an opportunity to do that, I try to show everybody that I deserve it,” he said. “You can’t really go out there, get plays and not do anything with it. So whenever I get the opportunity, I’m definitely trying to prove myself.

“I don’t think about injuries. Anyone can get hurt on any play. I don’t think it’s more of a workload thing. It’s just football. It’s 100 percent injury rate. Hopefully, my percentage is a little higher to stay healthy right now.”