The New England Patriots started off the season 0-1 after falling to the Miami Dolphins in a tight 17-16 loss. The difference in this one, sadly, was a Damien Harris fumble with just under four minutes to go.
This shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Harris was the bell-cow back in Mac Jones’ debut, rushing for 100 yards on 23 carries while looking more explosive and shifty than last year. Harris made the most of his 40 snaps, but it appears his playing time might be in jeopardy after coughing up the football.
According to Mike Reiss, Harris might be in for a reduced role in the Patriots’ matchup against the New York Jets, as Belichick’s policy of benching those who can’t hold on to the football might come back to bite the third-year back.
Perhaps Belichick can make an exception here, though? After hyping Harris up all offseason long and making him the focal point of the offense last week, now we’re going to put him on the bench after trading Sony Michel? Doesn’t sound like the most prudent plan for him to adhere to.
Will the Patriots really bench Damien Harris?
Reiss mentions 5-foot-6 lightning bug JJ Taylor, who was a healthy scratch last week, as someone who could eat into Harris’ carries. Rhamondre Stevenson had a very impressive preseason, but he had one of the worst rookie debuts in Week 1.
Harris had one huge error, but he did reach triple-digits in rushing yards, and everything that we saw from him last year despite playing against stacked boxes hints at the idea that he will be a productive starter in this league. Ruining his confidence by shortening his workload with inadequate options behind him feels like the truest of knee-jerk reactions.
Despite the presence of Jones under center, Josh McDaniels and the offense will try to establish the run as frequently as possible, and Harris is integral to realizing that vision, and giving Jones a balanced attack to lean on. Taylor doesn’t have anywhere near the potential of Harris.
Part of that plan was on full display vs the Dolphins. The Patriots had success both on the ground and through the air — they just couldn’t score. Harris’ turnover was one of the main reasons for that, but the Patriots can’t afford to disrupt the status quo and hope a lesser back replicates what Harris proved he can produce in 2020.