Dion Lewis, formerly of the Patriots and now of the Titans, downplayed the acrimony of his trash talk last season… but he came off a little unconvincing.
While some might say it’s perfectly normal and natural for a bitter employee to take a few parting shots at his or her former company on their way out the door after getting canned, Dion Lewis took it just a bit too far in 2018.
After toiling in relative obscurity as an injury-prone backup with the Eagles and then (briefly) the Browns and the Colts, Lewis resuscitated his NFL career with the Patriots in 2015. He was averaging a robust 4.8 yards per carry before a torn ACL robbed him of the second half of that season and then the first half of the 2016 season as well.
Lewis patiently rehabbed and waited for his opportunity to come around again, and in 2017 it did, as the running back finally managed to play a full 16-game regular season for the first time as a professional. Setting career highs for himself in attempts, rushing yards, and touchdowns, Lewis figured he’d finally proven himself and found a permanent home in New England.
It was not to be so. The Pats stuck with James White and Rex Burkhead, then added rookie first-round draft pick Sony Michel to the mix. Offended by the team’s lack of interest in re-signing him, Lewis inked a four-year, $20 million contract with the Tennessee Titans instead… and then promptly started badmouthing the squad he’d just made it to back-to-back Super Bowls with.
Acknowledging after the Titans’ 34-10 Week 10 drubbing of the Patriots that “hell yeah it’s personal,” per CBS Boston, Lewis essentially revealed to anyone who would listen that he’d had this game circled on his calendar all season long. “That’s what happens when you go cheap. You get your a– kicked,” he added.
Lewis himself didn’t play particularly well that contest – he had 20 rush attempts but netted just 57 yards on the ground, so clearly Titans head coach (and former Patriots linebacker) Mike Vrabel wanted to give his back the opportunity for revenge by way of having a monster game.
Lewis wasn’t done taking smack about the Patriots, though, and wanted to make sure everyone in the world knew that they’d made a mistake in disrespecting him and undervaluing his services to their club.
"“I didn’t have to prove anything. I know I can play. I just had to let our team know that these guys are beatable. … I know those guys. I know that you be physical with them and let ’em have it and they’ll fold.”"
That’s tough talk, indeed.
Of course, it’s easy to say such things when you’ve just beaten your opponent by 24 points. The only problem is that New England obviously would go on to win the Super Bowl, their sixth championship in franchise history. Tennessee? They went 4-3 the rest of the season and didn’t even make the playoffs.
Perhaps that eventual outcome humbled Lewis just a bit, because his tone was drastically different on Wednesday when he spoke to reporters after the Titans’ joint practice with the Patriots. Per CBS Boston again, here’s what Lewis said when asked about his incendiary comments last season:
“That’s old news, man. I’m just happy I’m here.”
Pressed further, he did everything but completely deny he ever even said any of those words in 2018:
"“Naw, man. They know it’s all fun and games. Just competitive — guys are out here talking trash today. So it’s all, that’s what you do, when you go against somebody, you talk trash, you compete and you just try to get better. So that’s just what it is, when you’re on the field, you’ve gotta have that mind-set. Just having fun.”"
“Fun and games?”
It sure didn’t sound or feel like “fun and games” last season when Lewis called the Patriots “cheap” and “beatable,” and then rubbed salt in the open wound by saying the New England players “folded” and got their “a– kicked.”
Lewis had every right to feel a bit jilted or under-appreciated by Bill Belichick and the Kraft family after the 2017 season, but still… it’s not like he got fired. He wasn’t cut from the team or released. The Patriots actually stuck by him as he made a long and complicated return from his injury and subsequent surgery; they could have just kicked him to the curb like the Browns did after he fractured his fibula in 2013.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s clear and evident now that Lewis’ parting with the Patriots worked out just fine for both sides. Lewis got the money he thought he deserved and an opportunity for meaningful snaps alongside just one other starter (Derrick Henry) in Tennessee, and New England won a championship with the help of its three-headed monster in Michel, White, and Burkhead.
If anything, Lewis could have at least offered a small apology for the harshness of his comments last season; or if not that, he could have easily chalked them up to the “heat of battle” or the emotions he felt after such a thrilling and complete victory over his former team.
Trying to convince us all now that he was just joking at the time and that his words were lighthearted and part of the game just comes across as a hollow excuse… and frankly, it doesn’t hold water, either.