The New England Patriots opened their 2021 season on Sunday with a crushing 17-16 divisional loss to the Miami Dolphins.
As the Patriots were driving down the field and looked moments away from snatching a late victory, starting running back Damien Harris fumbled on Miami’s nine-yard line. Harris’ egregious turnover all but clinched the game for the Dolphins.
Reports and rumors emerging out of Foxboro this morning indicate that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick could punish Harris by reducing his role in the team’s Week 2 matchup against the New York Jets. After all, we’ve seen Belichick take a heavy-handed approach when responding to similar circumstances in the past. Often seen as a disciplinarian, Belichick is a no-nonsense coach that preaches the little things such as ball security.
Although it wouldn’t be surprising to see Belichick react to Harris’ late-game blunder in such a manner, a drastic response would be a mistake. Harris looked terrific in New England’s RB1 role prior to the fumble and should get every opportunity to redeem himself against the Jets.
Harris finished the game with 100 yards on 23 carries. His highlight of the day was an impressive 35-yard run. Harris also added two catches for 17 yards, and yes, the aforementioned fumble. Throughout most of the day, Harris ran the ball with great effectiveness. He was decisive, dangerous, and physical. He was New England’s best skill player in a tightly fought contest.
There’s a good reason Harris earned the right to carry the load in Sunday’s regular-season opener in the first place. Throughout the summer, Harris was clearly the team’s most talented running back. Belichick and Co. would be wise to remember that before taking extreme measures.
One saving grace for Harris’ future output could be that he wasn’t the only Patriot running back to make an error on Sunday. Rookie tailback Rhamondre Stevenson entered his first professional game with a lot of hype after an excellent preseason but also fumbled despite touching the ball just two times. Yikes.
Stevenson could find himself inactive next week, with second-year player J.J. Taylor coming in to replace him. Taylor didn’t suit up on Sunday but could get a chance to prove himself worthy of being more involved going forward against the Jets. Taylor was electric in the preseason, racking up 241 yards and a touchdown on just 33 total touches.
It will be interesting to monitor how the Patriots sort through their backfield in Week 2, but anything less than 20 touches for Harris would be far too few.