EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mike Gillislee came out of the gates with power and speed. But his day came to a screeching halt when he fumbled in the first quarter.
The Patriots big back didn't start, but when he entered the game on his team's second drive he looked strong. He carried on three consecutive downs for gains of nine, five and four yards. Two plays later, on first down from the Jets 27-yard line, Gillislee took the ball again and had another sizable gain.
Then he fumbled.
- Did the refs get the Austin Seferian-Jenkins call right?
- Brady picks up record-breaking 187th regular-season win, but isn't thrilled
- Dion Lewis makes his case, helps Patriots running attack vs. Jets
- Gronkowski a force in return to action
- Best and Worst: Patriots 24, Jets 17
Jets linebacker Darron Lee punched the ball free from Gillislee's grasp and Buster Skrine recovered, eventually leading to a Jets touchdown drive and a 14-0 road deficit for the Patriots.
That was the last that MetLife Stadium would see of Gillislee for a while. He sat out nearly two full quarters -- giving way to Lewis even in goal-line situations and I-formation deployments -- and he did not return until he ran for two yards on first down with about four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"It's football," he said. "Things happen. It's all about what you do after that. Just focused and kept it together. Protected the ball after that."
Gillislee carried five more times in the game and finished with a total of 44 yards on 10 carries. He admitted after that it's difficult to maintain a rhythm after an extended stay on the sidelines like the one he endured, but he said he tried to make the most of his chances when he was called upon.
"I just stayed focused, just wishing for another opportunity," Gillislee said. "Coach put me back in."
In his most extended action of the season, Lewis took advantage of Gillislee's down day and capitalized with 52 yards and a goal-line touchdown on 11 carries. He forced four missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, which was more than any Patriots running back has forced in a single game this season. Lewis forces a missed tackle for every three attempts this season, per PFF, which is the second-best rate in the league.
"Dion did a great job," Gillislee said. "He's a great running back. He's always focused, and he just did a great job tonight."
It seemed as though Gillislee was initially primed to play a big role against the Jets in Week 6. Bill Belichick said earlier in the week that he was sensing Gillislee was on the verge of some explosive runs, and the team's early nod toward two-back packages with Gillislee and James Develin indicated that the 5-foot-11, 219-pounder be a big part of the plan.
It didn't work out that way following Gillislee's fumble, but he didn't stay sidelined for long. And despite Lewis' emergence, it doesn't seem like Gillislee will be back on the bench for extended periods of time when the Patriots take on the Falcons at home next week.
Why? He hasn't been a repeat offender. The lost fumble was just the second of Gillislee's career, giving him two in 233 carries over three-plus seasons.