FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- I don't think it's hyperbole to say that Sony Michel was running for his Patriots life -- or at least the one he's come to know -- on Sunday as New England was able to hand the Las Vegas Raiders their first loss of the season. The third-year back enjoyed his best game in recent memory, rushing for 117 yards on a 13 yards per carry average while also hauling in both of his targets for 23 yards in the winning effort. The Patriots defeated the Raiders 36-20 in a game where Michel's impact was massive in the ever-evolving New England offense with Cam Newton.
Looking back at the beginning of the game, it actually appeared like Michel was on the verge of being benched. To begin the game, Michel assumed his typical starting role in the backfield and, similar to what we've seen from him over the last year-plus, the back wasn't that efficient, rushing for four yards and then no gain on New England's opening three-and-out possession. The Patriots then turned to Rex Burkhead for the next few series along with undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor, who was undeniably showing more burst -- looking almost Dion Lewis-like -- out of the backfield than Michel at the time. A changing of the guard, perhaps? Not so fast.
Coming out of the locker room at halftime, Michel burst onto the scene with a 38-yard rush on New England's first possession of the half. That drive later resulted in a Rex Burkhead touchdown. On the very next possession, Michel broke one off again, this time for a career-long 48 yards to help New England eventually net a field goal.
"I thought the backs ran well," Bill Belichick said postgame of his rushing attack that totaled 250 yards on the ground in Week 3. "They made a lot of yards. With their running, breaking tackles, or cutting back and avoiding guys in the secondary. We had a couple longer runs there."
Not only was Michel ripping off chunk plays, but he was performing well in pass protection and came up with a huge blitz pickup in the second half completing his ever-important responsibility to protect Cam Newton at all costs. That will surely get noticed when Belichick and company go through film review.
"One of my favorite plays in the game was Sony on a pass protection, just dumping the guy at the end," said Rex Burkhead. "That was an unbelievable job by him because the guy got into the backfield so quick."
This breakout performance from all different angles by Michel was extremely well-timed for him. Not only was he seemingly at risk of losing significant snaps to Taylor and Burkhead throughout this game, but second-year running back Damien Harris -- who was widely viewed as the best back in camp -- is now eligible to come off injured reserve. Had Michel fallen flat here, the road would be paved for Harris to take on a sizable workload upon arrival -- whenever that may be. Now, Michel is at the very least giving himself a fighting chance. It may just be one strong game, but Michel couldn't have turned it in at a better time as he likely secured a decent share of the carries for at least one more week.