DENVER -- The Patriots might've proved just how deep they are at running back by the caliber of player they were willing to bench on Sunday night against the Broncos.
Denver's defense came into Sunday night ranked second in total defense and fifth against the run, yet the Patriots sat their leading rusher and still put up big offensive numbers in their 41-16 win.
Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch against the Broncos on Sunday night, giving the Patriots four active backs: Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden. They combined for 99 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, and they caught six passes for 38 yards and two touchdowns.
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Gillislee averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry in New England's two games leading up to the matchup in Denver. And while he gives the Patriots a different kind of runner as the team's "big back," the Patriots were OK going without him against a stout run defense.
Lewis (21 snaps) started the game and ran with good power -- particularly on his eight-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, during which he carried Aqib Talib about four yards into the end zone.
Burkhead (36 snaps) came in after Lewis opened the game, catching two passes on his first two snaps, including a 14-yard touchdown. Burkhead ended up leading the position group in playing time, and for the third consecutive game since coming back from a rib injury, he saw his workload increase.
White (11 snaps) saw five touches, the last of which was an eight-yard touchdown on an option route that completely shook linebacker Will Parks.
The Patriots invested in the running back position this offseason when they signed both Burkhead and Gillislee. Now they have more backs than they know what to do with.
Bolden is active on a weekly basis for what he gives the team in the kicking game, but he's no longer the only back who contributes on special teams. Burkhead made two tackles as a member of the kickoff team, and he blocked a punt that helped set up a field goal. Lewis, meanwhile, returned a kick 103 yards for a score.
It's a dynamic group that can run, catch and chip in on "teams," and they put on display their varied skill sets Sunday night.
Though Lewis has seemingly taken on any role that Gillislee (who isn't used as a receiver and doesn't play special teams) might handle, the Patriots may opt to bring Gillislee back into the fold when they see a matchup that might favor a bigger back. And if they do, the league will see they have yet another wrinkle to their running game.
As it is, it's already a headache, as Sunday night's performance showed.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE
The season is halfway over and the Patriots are on their bye week, so what better time for midseason superlatives? In the first of a three-part series, Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi look at some of the best -- and worst -- on-field occurences so far in 2017.
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WORST PLAY OF THE YEARDevin Funchess’ 10-yard reception from Cam Newton in Week 4 in which Funchess ran unmolested off the line and into the end zone with nary a Patriot in pursuit.
TOUGHEST OPPOSING PLAYER
GIVE US YOUR OPINION: Who's the toughtest opposing player the Patriots have faced this year?— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) November 2, 2017