N'Keal Harry played well for the New England Patriots in their Week 1 win over the Miami Dolphins, and yet most of the talk about his performance has centered around a third-quarter fumble.
It could've been a costly turnover, to be fair. The Patriots were poised to score their third touchdown of the game and go up 21-3. On a 1st-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Patriots quarterback Cam Newton completed a pass to Harry, who ran the ball down to the 1-yard line before being tackled short of the goal line. Harry also fumbled and the ball sailed out of bounds through the end zone for a touchback, which gave Miami the ball.
The Dolphins scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession to trim the deficit to 14-11, but the Patriots responded with a touchdown drive of their own and ultimately prevailed with a 21-11 victory.
Newton came to the defense of Harry on Wednesday.
“I spoke with N’Keal. Let's just put a lot of things into perspective here,” Newton said in a video press conference, as transcribed by ESPN's Mike Reiss. “Did he have a good game? Yes, he did. I think that one play overshadowed the production he did have. He bailed me out on a play, on a kind of inaccurate pass that he came down with and got the first down. He did pretty good in the run game. He had a couple contested catches. And all that was kind of for naught because a lot of people just focused on the fumble.
“And granted, I'll be the first person to tell you, he'd be the first person to tell you, he knows that’s unacceptable. But obviously, when you just put things into perspective and you call an apple an apple and a spade a spade, it was just one mistake. Him still being a young player, trying to come into his own, things like that will happen. You just want it to be minimized as much as possible, but he’s making leaps and strides as everyone would expect him to be. He’s growing up into his best self. For him, after chatting with him, he knows he has to make practice game-like, and that’s the only thing you can imagine.”
Newton has been lauded throughout his brief tenure with the Patriots for being a good teammate, and these comments on Harry are another example of that.
The veteran quarterback also has plenty of experience working with younger players and helping them develop. He did it throughout his nine years with the Carolina Panthers.
“The thing that makes me and N'Keal kind of closer; I told N'Keal my spiel -- obviously, being in Carolina, I’ve had a N’Keal in my life for as long as my career has existed,” Newton said. “Being a high-invested draft pick, dating back to Kelvin Benjamin to Devin Funchess, those young guys. Me also being young at the time, too. Then you invest in Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore, Christian McCaffrey.
“So it’s nothing new to come on a team and you have a young talent at receiver, and trying to morph him into the best player he can possibly be. I know N’Keal is buying in -- not only to my theory and methods, but also to the team as well. Plays like that are going to happen. We just hope that’s the only time it will happen.”
Harry totaled five receptions for 39 yards against the Dolphins. He never had more than receptions in a single game last season. So, he's off to a promising start in this Newton-led offense.
There's no doubt Harry has plenty of things to improve on, and he must take care of the football because turnovers are a quick way to find yourself on the sideline for most of the game. But it has to feel good for Harry to have the backing of the starting quarterback.
Newton's willingness to mentor Harry and help him develop into the best player possible should pay dividends for the Patriots in the short and long term.