Ball security is, and always has been, the name of the game in Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots locker room.
Hold onto the rock (and break tackles), and you’ll be rewarded as an every-down back. Fumble the bag? You might just get Jonas Gray’ed out of the picture.
Of course, there’s always some wiggle room. Damien Harris, whose critical fumble allowed the Miami Dolphins to salt away a hard-fought victory that looked like a loss only seconds earlier, was always going to remain the leader of the Patriots’ backfield. The error was devastating, but allowing it to alter a season’s worth of game plans would be foolish.
Rhamondre Stevenson’s fumble, on the other hand? Uh, let us get back to you on that. Seems pretty determinative so far, after he was made inactive for Week 2.
Harris remained unremarkable on Sunday, if you believe the stat sheet. He averaged just 3.9 yards a carry on 16 attempts, scoring once.
That single touchdown, though, was the result of tremendous resilience, a Beast Mode-y effort that rumbled on for 26 yards and included 26 busted tackles, per Mina Kimes’ barely-exaggerated estimation.
After the game and during the team’s locker room celebration, Belichick took special care to note Harris by name, as he’d come out on the other side of a tough few weeks by lowering his shoulder and (ahem) doing his job.
Patriots HC Bill Belichick’s praise for Damien Harris meant something.
He also allowed the team to put his praise for Harris on display, too, which is no small thing. As Henry McKenna — who tweeted the above droplet — confirmed for me on my podcast, the Patriots really are as interested in controlling the narrative as outsiders think they are.
If you’re seeing something on an official team social media channel — especially something as “inside” as a locker room breakdown — then they really wanted you to see it. Harris is the future of the franchise at running back, and the coaching staff isn’t giving up on him now.
Just for good measure, let’s all take another look at Harris’ masterwork from Sunday afternoon, the type of tough run you can easily envision being effective in, say, the January snow in Kansas City.
We won’t dwell too long on the Chiefs, but through two games, it’s fairly obvious this season’s AFC favorite has a few holes up front and struggles to contain the run.
Quite simply, if the underdog Patriots want to pull off a playoff upset, they’ll need Harris at his very best — and it’s not too tough to envision the whole thing working out nicely.
Don’t take it from us, though. Take it from Coach Belichick, who really wanted you to see him hinting at the exact same thing.