With Dion Lewis emerging as an x-factor, the New England Patriots punched their ticket to the AFC Championship with a 34-16 divisional round victory over the Houston Texans on Saturday night.
Lewis was impressive in his first NFL playoff game, shredding through the Texans’ no.1 ranked defence. The 26-year-old made NFL postseason history during his dominant night, becoming the 1st player in league history to score a rushing, receiving, and kickoff return touchdown in a single postseason game. His historic performance was the key in the Patriots’ victory, providing them with an asset they haven’t had for the past 2 seasons.
Lewis was a key component during his limited 7 games with the Patriots last season – accumulating 622 total yards (234 rushing, 388 receiving), and 4 total TDs (2 rushing, 2 receiving). Unfortunately for the Patriots, a torn ACL would sideline the shifty running back for the remainder of the season, something that would truly cost them during their AFC Championship against the Denver Broncos. They’d lose 20-18 in a heart breaker, as Lewis’ absence would truly be felt – with the Patriots lacking a change-of-pace in their backfield while the Broncos put all their focus into Tom Brady.
With Lewis needing a second surgery during the offseason, the Patriots were more prepared; finding a short-term replacement in James White, utilizing both him and LeGarrette Blount to get the job done throughout the season. Even with White’s solid showing, the Patriots still lacked an explosive option in their backfield until Lewis’ return in Week 11 against the 49ers. The 5-foot-8, 195-pound ball carrier wouldn’t have much of an impact as the Patriots finished their season going 7-0, but against the Texans he was able to prove how effective of an option he is in Bill Belichick’s offence.
— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) January 15, 2017
Matched up against the no.1 ranked defence in the Texans, the Patriots knew that they would need a couple of big plays to get through the night. Led by Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, the Texans had a good amount of defensive pieces to take the Patriots off their game – using their speed and instincts to interrupt and break up plays, while also pressuring Brady to the point where he looked rattled.
Despite dealing with a quick 3-and-out on their opening possession, the Patriots would create a solid drive with Lewis capping it off. After connecting with 2 receivers, Brady would find Lewis on the left side of the field. The slim and crafty RB would do the rest of the work, using a studder step to freeze Benardrick McKinney, before sprinting into the end zone for a 13-yard receiving TD to give his team a 7-0 lead with 9:34 remaining in the 1st quarter.
The Texans would quickly respond on the ensuing possession, with QB Brock Osweiler leading a quick field goal-scoring drive to cut the lead to 4. With Gillette Stadium making some noise for his offence, Lewis would await the Texans’ kickoff – looking to create a big spark for his squad right before the end of the opening frame.
It didn’t take long for the 5-year man out of Pittsburgh to make a big-time play once again, slicing through Houston’s special team unit with his tremendous speed to score a 98-yard kickoff return TD to build the lead to 14-3 with a minute left in the 1st.
In the 2nd quarter, things wouldn’t go so well for the Patriots – with a couple of early mistakes hurting them during the frame. First, Brady would throw an interception to AJ Bouye on his own 34-yard line, which led to an eventual Texans field goal to cut the lead to 14-6. On the ensuing kickoff, Lewis would end up making a major mistake of his own; fumbling the ball on his own 17-yard to give the Texans back-to-back drives with extraordinary field position. Osweiler and Houston’s offence would take full advantage of the fumble, taking only 40 seconds to cut their deficit to a single point with 10:49 remaining in the 2nd.
Despite the quick switch in momentum, the Patriots would go unfazed and end up owning the rest of the 2nd and the entire 3rd quarter – scoring a field goal to end the half, and cashing in on a 9-play, 100-yard TD drive in the middle of the 3rd to give themselves a 24-13 lead heading into the 4th quarter. Houston wouldn’t give up, netting a field goal to cut the lead to 8 early in the 4th and forcing another interception on Brady to get the ball back with 13:07 remaining. Unfortunately, Osweiler would make his biggest mistake of the game – throwing a quick interception to set the Patriots up on he Texans’ 29-yard line.
Lewis would capitalize on the opportunity, redeeming his fumble with a couple of tough runs before closing it out for his team with a 1-yard rushing TD to give his team a 31-16 lead with 12:16 left in the final frame. Houston would fail to do anything else for the rest of the game, while the Patriots would add a garbage-time field goal to seal the game for good with a 34-16 victory.
Dion Lewis: rush TD, receiving TD, kick return TD. Previous two to do that: Tyreek Hill this season, Gale Sayers in 1965.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2017
It looks like the Patriots will be in good hands for the remainder of the postseason, with Lewis leading the way as their featured running back. He gives New England a multitude of options, making him more usable than Blount, White, and any other RB that’s currently in their backfield.
While there’s no doubt that Blount is extremely effective for the Patriots, leading the league with 18 rushing touchdowns during the season, he isn’t able to do what Lewis can in the open field. His tremendous speed, outstanding vision, and strength for a man his size makes him the x-factor for an already dangerous Patriots team, giving them a playmaker to go alongside Brady.
Next up, they’ll have to take on the winner of Sunday night’s Steelers/Chiefs contest. The Steelers boast a better total defence (13th in the league), but are vulnerable against the pass (17th). The Chiefs allowed the 7th lowest amount of points throughout the season, but ranked 24th in total defence – making either matchup a solid opportunity for Lewis to break out once again.
It won’t be easy for the Patriots to get to their 2nd Super Bowl in 3 years, but with an x-factor like Lewis back in the mix they should feel confident that they can get back to their peak. Already boasting one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL, it’s safe to say that the Patriots got even better – with Lewis returning to the lineup in good health and in full strength.
All stats for this article are from NFL.com
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