Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images Sport / Getty

New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis was on the practice field for the first time Thursday after starting the 2016 season on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury.

Lewis’ long-awaited return officially kickstarts a 21-day window the team will have to decide whether to activate him from the PUP list or shut him down for the rest of the year.

Lewis was enjoying a breakout season with the Patriots last year before a torn ACL suffered in November sent him to injured reserve.

The hope was that an offseason of rehab would allow him to suit up for Week 1, but a second procedure in August forced him to the PUP list and ensured he’d miss at least the first six games.

Lewis returning to the field, even if brought along slowly to ensure he’s at full strength for the playoffs, would be a massive addition to a Patriots offense already stacked with playmakers around Tom Brady.

The dynamic pass-catcher should eventually find his way back into a role as New England’s primary third-down back, providing the perfect complement to LeGarrette Blount between the tackles.

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