FOXBORO -- Over the course of the last two seasons, there's been one flawless indicator as to whether or not the Patriots will walk away from a given week as winners: Is Dion Lewis in the lineup or not?
In the 14 games Lewis has played since he joined the Patriots on a future contract in February of 2015, Bill Belichick's club has never lost. That streak will be put to the test during this postseason run, and while the Patriots have not relied solely upon Lewis to win them games, Belichick acknowledged on Thursday morning that having the 5-foot-8, 195-pound back in uniform provides his offense a shot in the arm.
"Just is another productive player for us on offense," Belichick said. "He's another good skill player. We've won a lot of games without him, but we've also won a lot of games with him. And he's given us a lot of production in those games."
Lewis was one of the most dynamic backs in the league last season before tearing his ACL in Week 9. After undergoing two knee procedures -- one of which was required before the start of the 2016 campaign and landed him on the physically unable to perform list -- he has returned and taken on a significant role in the Patriots offense.
He's carried 64 times since he made his season debut against the Niners in Week 11, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 2.1 yards after contact per attempt, according to Pro Football Focus. He's also caught 17 passes for 94 yards.
Lewis made it pretty clear he was somewhere close to full strength, despite being sidelined for months, when he carried a career-high 18 times for 95 yards in a win over Denver and caught two passes for nine more yards. It was the most touches he had seen in a single game in his career, surpassing the 19 (15 carries, four catches) he saw in Week 1 of 2015.
A unique asset to the Patriots, Lewis is not a "big back," nor is he strictly a "sub back" in the mold of Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen and James White. He's an all-purpose player who can finish runs with power between the tackles, while also possessing the skill set to make defenders look silly in space.
He can align out wide as a receiver, or he can take hand-offs behind fullback James Develin. His versatility makes him the queen piece on the Patriots chess board.
"We've played some two-back sets with Dion in there with another back whether it be Develin or James White," Belichick said. "It's just another thing the defense has to deal with. He's certainly a different type of runner than LeGarrette [Blount] as an inside runner. It's the same plays, but they're not really the same."
Belichick added: "It's great to have him. He's been a very productive player for us. The more of 'em you have. The better off we are."
With Lewis on the field, the Patriots have been at their best. Just look at their record.