Patriots running back James White, right, had a breakout game Sunday night in Houston – for the 2019 season, that is – with two touchdowns, eight catches for 98 yards and 14 rushes for 79 yards. Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

In baseball, it’s en vogue to meticulously manage the innings of prized pitchers.

Conceptually, it makes sense on the football field as well. Limit wear and tear early in the season to make sure your best backs are fresh for meaningful games down the stretch.

It certainly feels like the Patriots put James White on a pitch count in 2019.

New England’s most lethal back, White didn’t have more than 14 touches in a game until Sunday night’s 28-22 loss in Houston, and has only played 38 percent of the offensive snaps.

With the ball in his hands against the Texans, White weaponized New England’s offense. He caught eight passes for 98 yards, ran 14 times for 79 more, and scored a pair of touchdowns. When White had the rock, they were markedly better.

He was asked about the playcalling in Houston. The veteran White has been around long enough to know how he’s supposed to sidestep questions like that.

“(Josh) McDaniels does a great job dialing up the game plan,” White said. “Whatever he calls, we’re confident in making the plays work; whether it’s the big personnel, whether it’s five-wide, it’s all about play execution. No matter what the play call is, we have to go out and execute it, and we just didn’t do a good job of that.”

That might have been the case with some in the offense may not have, but not White.

It’s not hyperbolic to say the Patriots’ season hangs in the balance this month. At 10-2, they still have games against the Chiefs and Bills, and will be in an all-out brawl for playoff seeding. With an offense that’s shown little improvement, home field advantage and that first-round bye are as important as they’ve ever been in the Bill Belichick era.

It’s time to feature White more often. This stretch run is what you’ve saved him for.

Tom Brady’s trust with his rookie receivers has been a season-long storyline, and something the quarterback said on the radio last month resonates even more resoundingly now.

“When I think of trust and dependability, I don’t think of that as being on a team where you’re 8-8,” Brady began. “I think trust and dependability on a level of a championship-level team. I think there’s a lot of players that, it might be OK to be 8-8.

“I think we require a very, very high level of consistency and dependability. And if you don’t bring that, then I think other people can fill those roles. So it’s not a knock on any players, it’s really a credit to the guys that have been able to – look at the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Who is in the game? That’s who the team trusts the most.

“Who was on the field? That’s who everyone felt, in the biggest moment, gave our team the best chance to win.”

In the 28-3 comeback over the Falcons, was anybody more clutch than White? If the Patriots want to get back to the Super Bowl, they need to entrust the back who shined there with a bigger role.

In a heated pennant race, it’s time to ditch the pitch count and let White loose.

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