Had the circumstances been a little different, perhaps it would have been more noticeable. But in Sunday’s 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers, it appeared the Patriots running game made some headway.

The Pats fell into a 30-16 hole in the fourth quarter, so they had to abandon the run and rely on the pass. But until that point, the ground game had been efficient and found some rhythm. When the Pats face the Buccaneers tonight in Tampa, maintaining that momentum will be important.

Against the Panthers, the Pats ran the ball a season-low 19 times for 80 yards, a season-high 4.2 yards per carry. An 8-yard Dion Lewis touchdown run in the fourth quarter pulled them within one score at 30-23.

In his role as the primary runner, Mike Gillislee found success in his few opportunities, as he carried 12 times for 49 yards. Even with Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly dominating the field for 12 solo tackles and two assists, the Pats found enough space to be effective in an area they struggled to find consistency during the first three games. Their 3.6-yard average ranks 21st in the NFL.

“I think it’s coming along,” Gillislee said. “I just think we haven’t been in a situation to run the ball more. But I think when we are given the ball, we make the best of the opportunity that’s given.”

The Pats weren’t much better in terms of yards per carry last season at 3.9, but when the team acquired Gillislee and Rex Burkhead in the offseason to add to established backs like Lewis and James White, more was expected.