Damien Harris is clearly one of New England Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears’ star pupils. Surely, Harris’ work over the last three years helped empower the Patriots to move on from running back Sony Michel, with Harris being one of a handful of talented and emerging running backs in New England. Fears has been complimentary of Harris for quite some time, with the elevation to RB1 in 2021.
That’s why it was jarring to hear Fears get critical of Harris, who fumbled in the closing moments of the team’s season-opening loss to the Dolphins in Week 1. Harris fumbled on the 9-yard line in the final three minutes of the game, squandering the team’s final drive in field goal range with a one-point deficit.
“The one thing I preach about more than anything in the world is good ball-security,” Fears said on a videoconference call on Tuesday. “It was the classic thing that you wouldn’t expect to happen, and that was to give the ball away, give the god damn game away in the last few minutes of the game when we’re in scoring position. That was a hard one. That was a hard one to accept.
“For Damien, that stings, man. That stings like a son of a gun. The whole team is sitting there — everything is based — all their faith is in you. And he’s had to ride with that. He’s had to deal with that. I’ll tell you, he’s the kind of guy that’ll come out alright. He was trying to make a play. And somewhere along the line, you have to realize the situation we were in. We were in a position to win, so that’s a hard one.”
Harris had gone his first 170 NFL touches without losing a fumble. Perhaps that’s why — as critical as Fears was of Harris — the coach made it clear he was not losing faith in the running back after one tough mistake.
“I feel confident Damien is going to step up to the plate on this. I really do,” Fears said. “We have not had a problem with him, so I think we’ll be alright. I really do.”
Fears laid out what a running back should be thinking, and insinuated he wished he’d had the chance to relay these coaching points — but never got the chance in the hurry-up situation.
“No. 1, in that situation, you’ve got to understand the situation. The journey was over,” Fears said. “We didn’t need much more. He wasn’t fighting for a first down. The second it was over, protect the ball with both arms and get what you can get and let’s go down. The journey’s over. We got what we needed there. See what I’m saying? Let’s eat some clock and play the game. That was the thing to hit on with that one. I didn’t get a chance to — we were moving the ball, he was on the field. I didn’t get a chance to give him any help on that.”