FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots running back Damien Harris didn't hide from his crushing, late-game fumble in Sunday's season-opening 17-16 loss to the Miami Dolphins. At a time when some players wouldn't choose to stand in front of reporters and answer hard questions, Harris did.
"It's a tough play. Obviously I have to do a better job holding on to the ball, especially in a critical situation like that," Harris said. "But it's a long season. I'm not going to let this mistake define me, so I'm just ready to move forward."
Harris shared his intended approach. Now we wait to see coach Bill Belichick's.
When Patriots running backs have struggled with ball security in the past, Belichick hasn't hesitated to reduce their workload. One of the more extreme examples came in 2013 when top running back Stevan Ridley had a string of fumbles and was a healthy scratch as a result of it.
Surely, it would take more than what unfolded Sunday for Belichick to take that type of approach with Harris, who had a promising opening performance (23 carries, 100 yards; two catches for 17 yards) before the miscue.
But it isn't unrealistic to think Belichick will assess Harris' workload in the opener, and consider a reduction heading into Sunday's road game against the New York Jets (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
After all, part of the reason Harris played 40 snaps -- and looked fatigued shortly before the play in which he fumbled -- seemed to be because rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson (five snaps) had fumbled earlier in the game and was essentially put on ice afterward. Stevenson, the 2021 fourth-round draft pick from Oklahoma, also had a challenging time in blitz pickup against Dolphins linebacker Elandon Roberts on one play.
Second-year running back J.J. Taylor was a healthy scratch for the opener, and he could be an option to replace Stevenson -- and supplement Harris in the traditional running back role -- against the Jets.
As for Harris, Belichick was asked how he might employ Harris in the wake of the fumble.
"There's a lot of things all of us could have done better in the game, so I think we all need to improve on the areas that we're responsible for, and do a better job next week," he answered.
Teammates rallied around Harris after Sunday's loss.
"One play isn't the reason we lost the football game; there's many plays we left out there. That's what I told him," said Patriots RB James White (28 snaps), who was the "passing back" in the opener. "He played a very good football game [aside] from that. He's a great player, has a lot of talent, and we're going to need him. He has to keep his head up."
Added wide receiver Nelson Agholor: "He works so hard. It's a 'next-play' mentality. He's a great player and if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't even be in that situation. He ran the ball so well. As his teammate, I continue to tell him I love the way he runs."