When Dion Lewis went down with a torn ACL in Week 9 against the Redskins, the Patriots lost one of their most dynamic playmakers on offense, and that's certainly saying a lot.
We all know what the trio of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman can do in the pass game, but it was Lewis who provided a mismatch unlike anything opposing defenses could prepare for. His supreme quickness, agility and ability to produce as a dual threat out of the backfield was a wild card that the Patriots hadn't operated with in years under Bill Belichick.
Lewis was playing at a Pro Bowl and potentially even All-Pro level before going down with his injury, and the Patriots were forced to adjust their attack. The depth at running back took a hit even further when LeGarrette Blount was lost for at least the rest of the regular season when he suffered a hip injury last week against the Texans.
Insert James White.
The second-year man out of Wisconsin has been given the opportunity to bring back some of that playmaking ability out of the backfield, and he's done just that the past three weeks. Yesterday against the Titans, White caught seven balls on eight targets for 71 yards and a touchdown while also having a 70-yard scamper wiped out by a bogus OPI call on Keshawn Martin. On the season, White now has 366 all-purpose yards, with 236 of those coming in the last three weeks.
The 23-year-old is showing he can replicate a bit of what Lewis gave the team for seven weeks earlier in the campaign, and his quarterback couldn't be happier.
"The role that he's filled, it's been pretty unbelievable what he's accomplished," Brady told WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Monday morning. "He's in there more and more because when you prove that you're dependable and consistent and you're always doing the right thing and you're blocking and running and catching and you're doing the extra effort-type plays and you do it in practice, I just think everyone gains the confidence of that player..."
"It's great to have him out there," Brady continued. "The 70-yarder was a great play that got called back. I wish that would have counted...With the different injuries we've faced, different guys have had to step in, and James has done as well as possibly could be imagined."
White isn't the runner that Lewis is and was, but perhaps the more reps he'll get the more he can chew up yards between the tackles. If not, White has shown that he's more than capable of excelling in the pass game, and when Julian Edelman ultimately makes his return to the field, the Patriots arsenal will be damn close to the level it was operating at through the first half of the season.