Given the nature of Dion Lewis' key role in New England and the unfortunate visual of the Patriots playing-making passing back limping off after a non-contact left knee injury against Washington, it was no surprise that a request for an update on the running back's injury status was the first question Bill Belichick was asked Monday morning in his traditional day-after-game conference call with the New England media.
Of course given the nature of Belichick's history dealing with injuries and the media, the coach's response was no surprise, either.
Lewis' status, the situation on New England's banged-up and ever-changing offensive line and praise for the guy who filled in at the passing back role in the win over the Redskins were all key talking points in Belichick's Monday briefing, a day after his team improved to a perfect 8-0 at the midpoint of its Super Bowl title defense.
1. No update on Lewis' left knee: Dion Lewis walked off gingerly under his own power after suffering a non-contact, left knee injury in the third quarter of Sunday's win over Washington. The injury came at the end of a reception run, with Lewis grabbing at his left knee immediately after trying to make a cut and then falling to the Gillette Stadium turf. Lewis went to the locker room and did not return. ProFootballTalk.com reported that the running back underwent an MRI Sunday, with he and the team anxiously awaiting the results. Various initial reports indicated he may have suffered a less-serious MCL sprain but others hinted that looseness in the knee could be the sign of an ACL issue.
Belichick was asked right off the bat in his conference call if there was an update on New England's dual-purpose threat.
"I don't have any update on Dion," Belichick replied, the only time he addressed the topic in the 15-plus minute call.
2. Banged-up line competes well: Heading into Sunday's game with Washington, offensive line captains Ryan Wendell and Nate Solder were already on IR. Marcus Cannon (toe) and Tre' Jackson (knee) were out of action due to injury. Then, in the second quarter, right-turned-left tackle Sebastian Vollmer left with a head injury. He did not return. As a result, New England and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo were left scrambling to move bodies around up front. But when it was all said and done the patchwork group got the job done. New England did not allow a sack on the day, and a nearly perfectly balanced offensive attack churned out 161 yards on 37 attempts, including a career-best 29 attempts for 129 yards (4.4 avg.) for LeGarrette Blount.
"I thought our run blocking was good, at times. We definitely had some space in there," Belichick said of his trench warriors. "I thought that LeGarrette ran well. Both Dion and Brandon [Bolden] ran well, too. They just had fewer opportunities. I thought LeGarrette ran well. I thought our receivers really blocked well. We did a pretty good job of not allowing penetration and getting the backs started. Sometimes there were bigger holes than others. But they definitely competed hard against a really good defensive line. The Redskins have a lot of good players there and they have a lot of depth, they play a lot of guys. They always can pretty fresh, pretty active in there. I thought we competed well in the running game. We had a couple guys playing positions they hadn't played a lot of, so I thought they handled the assignments and overall the adjustments with some of those running plays pretty well."
3. Brandon Bolden and Bryan Stork – phenomenal fill-ins: When injuries hit it means the next man in line has to step up. Succeeding in that spot is a longstanding tradition in New England. Sunday afternoon a few more Patriots added their names to the list of impressive super subs from over the years. When Lewis limped off, the veteran Bolden was thrown into duty in the passing back role. The fourth-year player is primarily a special teams contributor, but has shown at times he can run and make plays in the air when called upon. He did just that against Washington, with one 12-yard rush and three catches for 27 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown reception.
Belichick and his coaching staff have always had faith in the former undrafted running back, and Sunday was another example of why that's the case.
"He's shown to be a dependable player on all four downs," Belichick said of Bolden "He plays a lot for us on fourth down. But made plays in the passing game. Made plays in the running game yesterday. He's done that for us in the past. He has good size, good run skills. He's a good blocker in pass protection. He catches the ball well and has good run skills. I'd say each year he's gotten a little bit better and understands his role. He's always ready and prepared and has stepped in and consistently done a good job for us. He's been a valuable player for us for several years. Really he's allowed us in a lot of cases just carry three backs to the game because he can really back up passing or running situations, however the first two guys, however that goes, but he's able to give you quality depth there, really, on all four downs."
As the injuries hit the offensive line, fresh off of IR second-year lineman Bryan Stork was also called into fill-in duty. A starting center as a rookie, Stork actually saw reps at all three line positions against Washington, including playing half the game at right tackle after Vollmer left the game with the head injury. A pre-game plan for Stork to see rotational reps on the inside turned into a rare performance out of necessity. An interior player for the bulk of his pro and college career, Stork put forth a three-position day that even the ultra-experienced Belichick has never seen before.
"When we got into that situation yesterday with Sebastian, that was really the easiest move for us," Belichick said of putting Stork at right tackle. "Bryan competed well out there for a position that he hasn't played in a quite a while. I'd say it's unusual (for a guy to play center, guard and tackle). I can't really think of a time when I've done that before, especially in the same game.
"Bryan's a pretty adaptable guy. Wherever you put him, he's going to go out there work hard and give you his best. And doesn't get too fazed on whether it's center, guard, tackle, left side, right side, whatever it is. He's just a football player. Likes to prepare. Likes to play. Likes to compete. And there is really a lot to be said for that."
And a lot to be said of the performance that both Bolden and Stork put forth when called upon in need on Sunday.