• The Patriots have a knack for bringing out the star in every journeyman's dreams. On Saturday night, against the Houston Texans, it was running back Dion Lewis's turn.
By Charles P. Pierce
January 15, 2017

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — There’s a reason why football players like to play for the New England Patriots. You will be shocked to know that this reason is not the bust-a-gut sideline comedy stylings of the head coach, or the essential natural wonder of lower Route 1 in Massachusetts, which is where this team actually plays, despite all those wonderful nighttime shots of Boston that the networks like to show to gull the rubes.

It’s not even the consistent success the franchise has enjoyed since Tom Brady took over at quarterback in 2001, although that success is the product of the real reason players come here to play. The fact is that this franchise has a jeweler’s eye for bringing out the star in every journeyman’s dreams, whether that’s for a game, a season, or a career. On Saturday night, against the offensively inept Houston Texans, it was Dion Lewis’s turn.

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Lewis was supposed to have his Foxborough moment last year, but he blew out his knee in the ninth game of the year. Then, there were complications after the surgery to repair the injury. He didn’t come off the Physically Unable to Perform or PUP list until the second week in November. To that point, his career had been notably doomstruck. Drafted by Philadelphia in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, Lewis bounced to Cleveland, where he broke his leg. Then he bounced to Indianapolis, where he lasted a week. He hadn’t played in two years before the Patriots picked him up and made him a starter in the first game of last season wherein, of course, the roof fell in again nine weeks later.

His Foxborough moment was delayed, but it finally happened under the vast, deep echoes of Brock Osweiler’s career detonating. With a minute left in the first quarter, having already scored on a 13-yard pass from Tom Brady, Lewis fielded the kickoff following a Houston field goal on his own two-yard line. He started up the left sideline and cut toward the middle. He made a move that caused Texans’ Robert Nelson to disappear entirely and then he beat Brian Peters to the right hashmarks. By then, the field had completely opened up. Lewis went 98 yards for the first postseason kickoff return touchdown in the team’s history. By the time he squeezed in from the one-yard line in the fourth quarter, Lewis had become the first player in NFL postseason history to score on a run, a pass and a kickoff return.

Jim Rogash/Getty

“The guys did a great job up front,” Lewis said. “We thought all year we were going to break one.”

To be honest, Lewis’s performance was the only thing that rescued the game from having all the esthetic charm of a meat grinder. The Patriots did manage to put 34 points on the board against the league’s best defense but they looked sluggish and choppy doing it. Brady was a mediocre 18-for-38 and took a considerable pounding en route. He benefited not only from a 48-yard pass interference call, but also from several chuck-and-duck completions to Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman. Even Lewis fumbled twice, losing one of them, and because he is a New England Patriot, he had to talk about the fumbles he’d made before the touchdowns he scored. Dion Lewis is, as they say, with the program.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do, protecting the ball better,” he said. “I can’t let my teammates down that way.”

The Patriots were rescued from themselves only by the utter ineptitude of the Houston offense generally, and of Osweiler—23-of-40 with three awful interceptions—in particular. (Osweiler telegraphed one of his picks so graphically that I believe New England safety Devin McCourty began planning to intercept the ball while he was driving to the stadium Saturday night.)

Osweiler got no help, either. Both tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and wide receiver Will Fuller dropped passes in the end zone—Osweiler’s perfectly thrown pass went through Fuller as though he were a waterfall. You get one pass like that per game these days from Osweiler and you…have…one…job. If Houston had almost anyone else at quarterback, it could have stolen the game. 

“You need to capitalize on great opportunities against a football team like this and even though we hadn't done that throughout the game, at the end of the day, we were still just down eight points at the start of the fourth quarter,” Osweiler said. “I made a clear read. I thought I was going to have a big explosive game completion and I think the ball just got away from me a little bit. It sailed a tick high and next thing you know, it's intercepted, so that's my fault, I'll clean that up. I can promise you I'm going to throw about a thousand of those routes in this offseason and get that fixed.”

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Neither Brady nor Belichick seemed very pleased at what they’d seen on Saturday night, either, and the Monday film session ought to be fairly salty. “I think we've just got to learn from it. I think this team did a great job playing against us. They had some good scheme stuff that worked. They have good rushers and they had some good guys in coverage, so they had a pretty good scheme. It was a lot of things, and then when you add our poor execution on top of that, then you add our turnovers on top of that, it doesn't feel great because we worked pretty hard to play a lot better than we played,” Brady said. “I give them a lot of credit, but we're going to have to play better on offense. We expect to go out and have a good week and try to fix the things that we saw tonight, and then try to play better next weekend.”

And because he is a New England Patriot and knows the drill, even Dion Lewis pronounced himself dissatisfied. “We have a lot of work to do. We made a lot of mistakes. I'm glad we got a win, but in order to advance next week, we've got to play a lot better than we did today,” he said. “Nothing is guaranteed in this game, everybody knows that so to go to the playoffs and get a win is exciting. We'll enjoy this the next couple of days and once we figure out who we're going to play, we know we've got a lot of work to do." This is the way things are here. You come here knowing that your Foxborough Moment is out there because the same cold-eyed assessment that one day may shuffle you out of town brought you here because it saw that moment for you. There is nothing sentimental about opportunity except the memory one day in the future of how you grabbed ahold of it when it finally came. Opportunity, Thomas Edison once said, is missed by most people because it wears overalls and looks like work.