One of the most encouraging signs for the New England Patriots in their Week 3 win over the Las Vegas Raiders was the improved play of Sony Michel.
The third-year running back entered Sunday afternoon's matchup with a disappointing 56 rushing yards over the first two games of the season combined. There were legitimate questions about whether Michel would soon lose his starting job if these struggles continued.
Michel answered the bell with a season-high 117 yards on just nine carries against the Raiders, including runs of 38 and 48 yards.
What was the reason(s) for Michel's breakout? It was among several topics discussed by Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry on a new episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast.
"We haven't seen Sony Michel run like that in a long time," Perry said. "Did it require a little bit of motivation? Did he hear people start to whisper, or say on NBC Sports Boston for a while that as soon as Damien Harris comes back he could take that job and run away with it, literally? I don't know. It wasn't just that he had a couple long runs. Again, I would say even an average running back -- if the hole is there and the hole is blocked up perfectly -- your BenJarvus Green-Ellis', your Steven Jackson at 38 years old or whatever, can get a 38-yard gain occasionally.
"What was fascinating from Michel is that he was making people miss. We haven't seen it a lot, whether it was at the line of scrimmage, which we saw on Sunday, whether it's at the second or third levels. He wasn't necessarily, and correct me if I'm wrong, we didn't see him run over people. His pure power moment came on a catch, which actually was a really nice catch on a throw sort of into the flat on a fastball from Cam Newton. He caught it and turned up field, and he had about a 330-pound man dragging off his backside for the last six yards of the play.
"He was impressive in a lot of different facets, and I don't know if it was motivation or if he was just due for it. It does seem to be interesting timing. I think there was something to this -- because he got benched, basically, last week. In Week 2 we barely saw him in the second half. And then in Week 1, J.J. Taylor comes in and he's taking some of his reps. ..."
The Patriots rushing attack as a whole was excellent versus the Raiders, totaling a season-high 250 yards, along with two touchdowns.
The next challenge for Michel is giving this kind of performance on a consistent basis. With a crowded backfield, and Harris able to return from injured reserve for Week 4, carries could be hard to come by for Michel if he struggles again.
Also discussed in this episode: The Patriots prove they can win when Cam Newton isn't superman. Why Bill Belichick will love this win, and more!