You never would have known that Dion Lewis had his knee cut open twice in less than a year. You never would have known that he had returned to Patriots practice less than a month ago. You never would have known that Sunday's matchup against the 49ers was his first game back.
The only way you would have known was by looking at the snap counts after the game. Lewis played in 21 of a possible 77, indicating that the Patriots wanted to work him back into game action relatively slowly. But what he did in those snaps was reminiscent of what he did in the first half of last season when he established himself as one of the game's most dynamic all-purpose backs in the league.
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Lewis was on the field to start the game for the Patriots, and he was targeted twice during their first offensive drive. He finished the game with eight touches, including five rushing attempts for 24 yards and three catches for 25 yards. He changed direction quickly and he made three tacklers miss.
"That's the best feeling," Lewis said after the win. "Being out there with my teammates after you get a big win. I don't like watching. I had to watch a lot of games over the past year. It's always tough watching. I know every play that's going to happen so I watch it from a different angle than everybody else. It's tough from that part. But just happy to be back out there with the guys."
On Lewis' first touch -- a nine-yard pickup -- he made one man miss and scooted ahead for a first down on third-and-three. Lewis flashed his trademark elusiveness again at the end of the first half, when he took a handoff, bounced outside, left a tackler in his wake, and picked up 12 yards for first down.
He explained after the game that there was no trepidation on his part when it came to putting any kind of stress on the knee that required two surgeries before it was good to go for this season -- one to repair his ACL after it was torn in Week 9 of last year, and one to repair the patella fracture he suffered before training camp.
"I knew I could do that," Lewis said. "If I didn't think I could do the same stuff, I wouldn't have been out there today."
He added: "Just gotta get used to it. Playing the game, I felt good. My body feels good. I feel the same as I always felt. Just gotta get back in rhythm. The more reps I get, the more comfortable I'll be."
Lewis' addition could end up being a boon for the Patriots offense as he provides the team with one of the more difficult players to tackle in the NFL. Last season, he forced 43 missed tackles -- 24 receiving, 19 rushing, accoding to Pro Football Focus -- in just seven games. He can line up in the backfield as a lone tailback or he can align alongside James White to give the team two receiving options out of the backfield, a formation the Patriots used on Sunday. He can also line up out wide and serve a receiver's role.
Getting regular-season game reps on Sunday was just another step in the right direction for Lewis as he makes his way back to the form he showed last season. Happy as he was to have been in uniform and competing with his teammates for the first time in a long time, he considered it an inevitability.
"It's challenging, but it can make you or it can break you," Lewis said. "I've been through a lot worse stuff than this. I've been through a lot worse stuff than not being able to play and being hurt. The things I've been through in my life, preparing for this moment, I always push through."