FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran outside linebacker James Harrison grew frustrated in Pittsburgh because he wanted to play, but he was all smiles on Sunday with his new team.
The New England Patriots showed they have significant plans for him in a 26-6 victory over the New York Jets in the regular-season finale Sunday. Harrison will help the Patriots, who clinched home-field advantage, as they had him on the field for 28 of a possible 57 defensive snaps (including penalties). That was more than half the total snaps he had played (40) all year for the Steelers over 14 games before being released.
"It's like starting all over from scratch, like starting your rookie year over," Harrison said after totaling five tackles, adding that he always gets nervous before games and Sunday was no exception. "New game plan, you have to pick things up. Except when you're a rookie, you get OTAs, minicamp, and I got 4-5 days to prepare."
Before two sacks to end the game, Harrison’s highlight play came early in the third quarter when he backpedaled at the snap, planted his foot into the ground, then charged downhill and wrapped up receiver Robby Anderson short of the sticks for a stop on third-and-5. It was a textbook play in which he said he had outside responsibilities to make sure everything stayed to the inside part of the field and that meant also being aware of anyone coming across to his side of the field. The play was a reflection of how the 39-year-old Harrison still has something left in the tank.
But perhaps more importantly for the Patriots was what happened afterwards: safety/captain Devin McCourty and linebacker Elandon Roberts sprinted toward Harrison and celebrated with him. In a sense, it was like an official welcome to the defense.
"That's the building of the brotherhood," Harrison explained.
At the same time, Harrison is still finding his way in New England, as evidenced by how he stood by himself during the national anthem while all other players were part of one or two unified lines.
"I didn't know what was going on," he said with a chuckle. "I was not cued. They didn't tell me about that. That's where I normally stand, for 15-16 years."
It was one of his only "miscues" of the day.
The Patriots’ edge spot on defense has been an evolving picture all season, with coach Bill Belichick noting the team has worked with almost 10 different players because of a combination of injuries and personnel decisions that didn’t pan out. So when Harrison unexpectedly became available on Tuesday, they were quick to place a call, which Harrison said was the only call he received.
Quarterback Tom Brady said it’s always nice to have players with big-game experience like Harrison at this time of the year, and Belichick called him "very professional."
With Harrison showing the ability to set the edge in the running game and knocking off some rust late in the game with some pass-rush reps that showcased his power and nonstop motor, his debut was a solid first step.
Of the first of his two sacks, in which he knocked the ball loose before the Jets recovered, he said, "I was just rushing outside. It's the last couple plays of the game, so you know they're going to pass, so I had a good get-off and was able to get around the corner."
Of the second sack, he said, "They caught me and I was able to convert back underneath the guard and the quarterback was scrambling out towards me, so luck."
The Patriots will need more of that, as the stakes only become that much higher in the playoffs. Harrison sounds excited for the challenge ahead.
"I don't really listen for what people can say I can do. I listen for what people say I can't do," he said. "I want to prove people wrong. I want to show that I'm able to still do it. I may not be able to do it like I used to, but I want to prove that I'm still able to do it to where I should be."