When Roger Lewis Jr. was a kid, his mom bought him the jersey of his favorite player: Eli Manning.
In last Sunday’s win, he caught the quarterback’s 300th career touchdown pass, which just so happened to be Lewis’ first NFL reception as well.
So how did he go from wearing No. 10 as a grade-schooler to wearing No. 82 on Sunday?
The answer is special teams. Lewis made the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie wide receiver out of Bowling Green, but he was part of the active gameday roster of 46 players on Sunday because he can cover punts. That’s why he was in uniform for the game and fellow wide receiver Tavarres King, a more experienced pass-catcher but less of a weapon on specials, was inactive for the first time this season. Lewis was active for just the third time after sitting out the first three games.
Being the fourth receiver for the game was almost an afterthought, one that only became significant when Odell Beckham Jr. injured his hip and someone had to replace the star in the first half.
“After Odell, he was the next man up,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. “He came on in and cashed in on his opportunity.”
Lewis had beaten his defender off the line of scrimmage earlier in the drive that ended with his touchdown. It went unnoticed at the time by Manning, who was looking to the left the whole play with Lewis to his right, but somewhere somebody on the coaching staff likely saw it and was able to get word down to the sideline and into Manning’s ear. The next time they ran that play, Lewis again beat his defender and Manning found him for a 24-yard touchdown pass, the Giants’ first points of the game.
“I knew it was going to come,” Lewis said.
“It was good to get Roger,” Manning said. “He’s been doing a good job. He did some good things at training camp and early on. He’s kind of waited for his opportunity to get in there. We had some things where he wasn’t able to get in anyway with some four receiver stuff, but today he pops in there and all of a sudden.”
Despite the historical significance to both quarterback and receiver on the play, Lewis said he was able to keep the ball. Who knows when he’ll get another chance, anyway? He’s still the fourth or fifth receiver on the depth chart, still working behind Beckham and Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard, fighting with King and Dwayne Harris for reps and a chance to play in games. He’s not even the main receiver with the letters J and R attached to his surname and included on the back of his jersey. He’s the junior junior.
“I’m learning from them every day,” Lewis said of his veteran teammates, Beckham and Cruz in particular. “Every rep they take in practice I’m looking at it, seeing how they break, seeing how they do all the little things.”
Unless the Giants use more four-wide schemes — which Manning suggested are in the playbook — Lewis’ snaps will be limited as long as the starting three receivers remain healthy. On Sunday, Lewis took 14 snaps on offense, 22 on special teams. That’s his main job, for now.
“I’m starting to like special teams,” he said with a grin after Sunday’s win over the Ravens. “I’m starting to like the gunner spot. It gets me pumped up so I can open up and run. That’s what I was born to do.”
It also gives him a uniform. His own uniform.
ROGER LEWIS JR.
WR, No. 82
Born Nov. 27, 1993 (age 22)
Height: 6-0 Weight: 196
College: Bowling Green
Signed by Giants as an undrafted free agent.
2016: 3 games, 3 targets, 1 catch for 24-yard TD.