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Dion Lewis has a secret to his success (and survival): Make them miss me 12.03.16 at 6:10 pm ET
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November 20, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis (33) during the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. The Patriots defeated the 49ers 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Dion Lewis has hit the ground running in his return to the NFL this season. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Dion Lewis is ready to show everybody he’s back for real.

In two games back, the running back who led the 2015 Patriots in yards from scrimmage before his ACL tear on Nov. 8, 2015, has eased his way back into the rhythm of the Patriots offense. Now with Rob Gronkowski out for the season following back surgery, it’s Lewis who might be called upon to finally get up to speed and pick up some of the slack.

Against San Francisco, he played 21 offensive snaps. Last week against the Jets, he played 23. Against the Niners, he carried the ball five times for 23 yards. In the passing game, he was targeted five times, caught three passes for 26 yards.

Last week, he carried the ball six times for 24 yards. He was targeted by Tom Brady seven times, catching four passes for 34 yards. Perhaps most telling is how Lewis has been used in the red zone. Inside the 20, he ran three times. He’s been targeted in the passing game in the red zone once each against San Francisco and the Jets.

“I think Dion has gotten better progressively each practice, each week,” Bill Belichick said. “Based on watching him practice for a couple weeks before we activated him, we felt comfortable playing him, and that’s part of his game, obviously, is his quickness, his change of direction, his acceleration. I think all of those things were evident. I think they’ve gotten better, but I think they were all evident when he returned to practice after the original – I’d say the initial break-in period.”

Lewis jokes about his 5-foot-8 stature and his ability to take the hits in the NFL game.

“I wouldn’t say survival. I would say survival for them,” Lewis joked this week. “Nah, I don’t mind getting hit but I’m not going to let somebody get me. If I can avoid getting hit, I’m definitely going to try and do that. I try to use my lower center of gravity to my advantage.”

Ironically, it wasn’t a hit that ended his 2015 season. He made a cut back to the inside on a run to the right edge against the Redskins in the first half. His left knee gave and he went down. A year later, he’s ready to finally pick up where he left off.

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Read More: Dion Lewis, New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski,
Tom Brady says Rob Gronkowski injury ‘tough news for everybody’ but train doesn’t ‘stop for anybody’ 12.02.16 at 2:33 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady has been down this road before.

He’s lost his favorite tight end target to injury in 2012, 2013, last season and even one time already this season. So when the news that Rob Gronkowski would be lost for the rest of the regular season and likely until the Super Bowl, Brady tried to keep a philosophical “next-man-up” attitude.

“That was tough news to hear for everybody because he’s such a big part of our team and what we do and his enthusiasm and energy for the game and what he means to us on the field because he’s such a great player and the kind of leader he is off the field and in the locker room,” Brady said Friday. “It’s a tough loss but we’ve still got a big challenge ahead and we’re going to try to do the best we can do. We’ve got a lot of good players and we’ll be focused on what our job is, which this week is a big test playing the Rams, their defense and what they can do. Everyone is going to have to step their game up.”

Brady admitted that seeing Gronkowski need a third back surgery hits him as a person first and then a teammate.

“He’s been through a lot over the years and he always comes back strong with a great attitude and a great mindset,” Brady said. “I think that’s what everybody expects from him. He’s a great guy. He’s a great teammate. He’s a great friend. He’s a tough guy. He always battles back. And we’ll keep battling without him. We’ve got a lot of tough guys in the locker room, still. See if we can make it a season. We’re off to a good start. We’ve got to keep it going. This is the time of year where we have to play our best football.”

Now Brady must turn to the likes of Martellus Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and running backs Dion Lewis and James White to pick up the slack in the passing game.

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Read More: Gronk, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski
Mike Petraglia, Ryan Hannable examine where Patriots go from here on Rob Gronkowski at 12:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — What’s the very latest on the Rob Gronkowski injury? How are the Patriots responding? WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable have the very latest inside Gillette Stadium.

Read More: Gronk, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski
Bill Belichick sheds little light on Rob Gronkowski: ‘We’ve talked about everything we can talk about here’ at 10:34 am ET
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FOXBORO — When the Patriots and the family of Rob Gronkowski issued a joint statement Thursday night about the status of the star tight end, it was the document that gave Bill Belichick the reference point he needed to answer all questions.

In his weekly Friday morning press conference at Gillette, Belichick made the most of it.

“Obviously, we’re all disappointed,” Belichick noted in his opening remarks before taking questions. “Nobody’s worked harder than Rob and been a better teammate and all that. So hopefully things will work out positively as possible with him. All the information we gave you, really that’s all we have for now. I’m sure there’ll be more coming in as we go through the next few days. Just take it as it comes. It’s an unfortunate situation for him. That being said, we’re turning our attention to the Rams.”

Then the questions began:

Are you fortunate to have Martellus Bennett to help fill the void? “Happy to have all the players we have.”

With the loss of Gronkowski and his contributions, how big a blow is this to the team? “Again, we appreciate all our players.”

But Gronkowski has meant so much: “You want to rank them. They’re all important. They’re all important. Rob’s a great player. They’re all important.”

Might the Patriots look outside the organization for depth? “We’ll always do what we feel is best for the football team.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Gronk, New England Patriots, nfl
Jeff Fisher reminds everyone he had the foresight to sign LeGarrette Blount: ‘I gave him a start’ 11.30.16 at 4:23 pm ET
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Ryan Shazier and the Steelers struggled to stop LeGarrette Blount. (Justin K/ Aller/Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount has been a beast for the Patriots. (Justin K/ Aller/Getty Images)

Jeff Fisher may not know all the names of the Patriots running backs but he knows one for sure.

In running down the list of Patriots running backs Wednesday, the Rams head coach referred to a Danny and a Brandon. Danny Woodhead is on the Chargers and has been out of New England since 2012 while Brandon Bolden is almost exclusively on special teams.

But he also mentioned LeGarrette Blount. There’s good reason Fisher would remember him beyond the fact he’s on pace for 1,300 yards this season.

“I have a place in my heart for LeGarrette, because I gave him a start, and I have great respect for him,” Fisher said. “He’s a big back, and he’s hard to get down. And as they rotate through, different guys play in different situations, and they do a good job with it. He knows where the ball’s going to go, and the guys are very, very disciplined.”

His history with the Patriots power running back is a fascinating one.

Because of his discipline issues at Oregon – including the infamous punch he threw in the game against Boise State – Blount was not drafted in 2010. He did agreed in principle to a free agent contract with the 49ers following the draft. However, after a meeting with then-Titans coach Jeff Fisher, Blount decided to sign as an undrafted free agent with the Titans. That August, Blount was involved in another incident in which he threw a punch, this time with a Titans teammate, defensive end Eric Bakhtiari, a few moments after having his own helmet ripped off in practice.

The play ended with some pushing and shoving, Blount threw a right fist, contacting Bakhtiari’s facemask. Blount quickly talked to Fisher, who explained away Blount’s behavior.

“He apologized, and I said he didn’t have to apologize,” Fisher told reporters. “It’s football. It’s training camp. His past is his past. Is that the first punch you’ve seen in camp this year? No. I’m not disappointed whatsoever. I have great confidence in the young man that he learned from his mistake, and he’s very competitive. That’s why we brought him in here is to watch him run the football like that.”

Blount survived the final roster cut and was placed on the Titans’ 53-man roster. But there was one more twist. Blount was then waived to make room for veteran linebackers Tim Shaw (signed from the Bears) and Patrick Bailey (Steelers). Titans officials told Fisher Blount could be signed to the rookie practice squad once he cleared waivers. Blount was waived and almost immediately claimed by Tampa Bay, a moment Fisher recalled Wednesday.

“We signed LeGarrette as a college free agent in Tennessee so I had him throughout the offseason through the end of training camp,” Fisher said. “Just his athletic ability, his strength and his run instincts and his dedication. He just was that guy just wanted to be a real pro. We got in a situation right at the final cut-down where the roster was tight and got bad advice and thought he would probably, potentially clear [waivers] and I could get him back to practice for a week or two and we would go from there. And he was claimed by Tampa.

“Disappointed that we lost him but very, very excited about him and the career he’s had.”

Read More: Jeff Fisher, LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots, nfl
Mike Petraglia, Ryan Hannable talk Marcus Cannon, Johnny Hekker and Aaron Donald and the Rams at 11:43 am ET
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FOXBORO — When the opposing punter is their best player do the Patriots really have anything to fear this Sunday against the Rams? Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable preview from inside Gillette Stadium.

Read More: Aaron Donald, Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams, Mike Petraglia
Bill Belichick sounds ready to send Johnny Hekker to Canton at 10:59 am ET
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Oct 2, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker (6) punts the ball against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Hekker has established himself as one of the best punters in football. (Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Bill Parcells famously once said about Curtis Martin, “Let’s not put him in Canton yet.”

Bill Belichick spoke Wednesday like a man throwing that caution to the wind when it comes to Rams punter Johnny Hekker.

In the ultimate pumping of the tires of an opposing player, Belichick spoke in glowing terms about the punter out of Oregon State, who once beat out Patriots punter Ryan Allen, forcing Allen to transfer to Louisiana Tech.

“Start with the kicking game, Hekker is a tremendous weapon,” Belichick beamed. “This guy looks like as good a player as I’ve seen at that position. He’s tremendous weapon in his ability to punt the ball, punt it inside the 20, directional kick it, involved in fake, can throw, can run, very athletic.”

The numbers support Belichick’s respect. Hekker is second in the NFL in average net yards (44.9), punts inside the 20 (35), fair catches (27) and fewest touchbacks (1). In five years in the league, he has averaged 46.3 yards per punt and a net average of 43.0 yards.

Those numbers over his first five years have put him in the highest regard by Belichick and every other coach who values special teams. Belichick thinks Hekker, because of his athletic ability, is much more than just a punter.

“But you’re talking about an athlete with Hekker,” Belichick continued. “He’s a little more athletic than [Sean] Landetta, just to pick a name. Ray Guy, Ray kicked for great average.”

“Look, these guys lead the league in punt coverage. They lead the league in gross punting, lead the league in net punting, lead the league in inside-the-20 and lead the league in punt coverage. If you’re in front in one of those categories, it’s very good. Last year, they led the league in all three. They’re right up there this year. Plus, he’s a threat on fakes and stuff like that.”

Obviously, the hope is that the Patriots see Hekker a lot on Sunday.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Dave Jennings, Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams
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