The New England Patriots running game was seen as an area of strength heading into the 2021 NFL season, but there's plenty that needs to be cleaned up ahead of Week 2.
Damien Harris' brutal fourth-quarter fumble was one of four Patriots fumbles during their 17-16 loss. Fellow running back Rhamondre Stevenson also turned the ball over earlier, and two of New England's fumbles came in the red zone.
Harris' teammates, including Patriots captain James White, picked him up with words of encouragement after the game. His running backs coach Ivan Fears, however, didn't hold back when discussing the Alabama product's costly mistake.
“That hurt. It hurt everybody," Fears said Tuesday. "The one thing we take pride in is not giving the game away, and we gave away our chance at winning the game. There is no way you feel good about it. The only thing we feel good about is that we get to play again and again and again. ...
“The one thing we preach more than anything in the world is good ball security. It was like the classic thing that you wouldn’t expect to happen. Give the ball away — give the damn game away by turning the ball over in the last few minutes when in scoring position. That is a hard one to accept. For Damien, God, that stings like a song of a gun. The whole team is sitting there, all of their faith is in you. He’s had to deal with that, and I’ll tell you what, he’s the kind of guy who will come out of this alright.”
Harris' turnover came on first down with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Patriots trailed by only one point and were in a position to pull off the Week 1 victory.
What bothered Fears most about his running back's miscue was the lack of situational awareness.
“You have to understand the situation. The journey was over,” he said. “We didn’t need much more. He wasn’t fighting for a first down — protect the ball with both arms and go down. We got what we needed there and then we just had to eat clock and play the game. ...
“They’re going to come at us and try to get the ball. We have to protect the damn ball. We have to get in space and run like a son of a gun, but we have to protect the ball. That’s the first thing. Never forget what the No. 1 priority is, and that’s don’t turn the football over.”
The Patriots' running back situation will be worth monitoring when they visit the New York Jets this weekend. J.J. Taylor could be added to the mix after being inactive vs. Miami.
Kickoff for Pats-Jets is set for 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.