‘We gave the game away’
RB coach Fears troubled by fumbles that cost Pats game
Ivan Fears is not a happy man.
The Patriots longtime running backs coach takes pride in making sure his running backs hold onto the football. Ball security is No. 1 on his priority list.
So it was hugely disappointing for Fears to see fumbles by Damien Harris and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson play a significant role in the Patriots 17-16 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday.
“The one thing we preach about more than anything in the world is ball security. It was like the classic thing that you wouldn’t expect to happen, that we would actually give the ball away, give the damn game away by turning the ball over in the last few minutes of the game when we were in scoring position,” he told reporters during a Zoom call Tuesday. “That’s a hard one, that’s a hard one to accept and for Damien … that stings like a son of a gun.”
Fears said the running game is a big part of the offensive equation, as it helps set up Mac Jones and the passing game.
Fears couldn’t hide his disappointment during the call.
“Hell ya, you know it. You can’t hide that. That hurt. It hurt everybody,” he said. “One thing we used to take pride in was not giving the game away. And we gave the game away. We took away our chance to win the game, and we can’t do that. There’s no way you feel good about that.
“We get to play again,” he went on. “That’s the only good thing we got going here, we get to play again, and again and again, and hopefully we get to put this one behind us with some doggone solid play and dependable play.”
Harris had a 100-yard day on 23 carries. The fumble, however, is his most memorable play.
Fears, though, thought Harris would move on, and be better for it.
“Rule No. 1, you gotta understand the situation. The journey was over. We didn’t need much more. It wasn’t fighting for a first down. His journey was over. Protect the ball with both arms, get what you can get and go down.”
Fears believes Harris will do a better job holding onto the football starting Sunday against the Jets.
“I feel confident Damien is going to step up to the plate on this, I really do,” he said.
As for Stevenson, who put the ball down in the first quarter, and wasn’t heard from after, the bigger issue with him was not going after the ball, and just assuming the play was dead after he got tackled.
“You have to understand how important that ball is. I hope he learns from Damien on the situation, how devastating it is when you give up the ball,” said Fears. “He’s got to learn that no matter when the ball comes out, even though you may think you’re down, the evidence doesn’t always back you. So you have to hand the ball to the official, is what you gotta do. That should be your goal. You get tackled, you’re the one handing the ball to the official after every time you touch it. That’s the way he’s got to approach it, he’s got to learn that lesson.
“He’s a hell of a back,” Fears added, “but he’s gotta learn that lesson. He can’t play the other way.”
Jones a fierce competitor
Jones is his own worst critic, constantly talking about things that need to improve. Is it possible he’s too hard on himself ?
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels didn’t seem to think so when asked during a Zoom call with reporters.
“I think he’s a very competitive guy. He wants to win at everything that he’s doing. He wants to perform his best every single day on every single rep,” said McDaniels. “I think that’s a great trait and a great quality to have, not only as a football player but as a human being. We’re fortunate that he feels that way. “
From McDaniels’ experience, it’s also a good way for a quarterback to lead a football team.
“I think relative to pushing himself and demanding the most from himself, I think that’s obviously the No. 1 way to lead — you show everybody else that you’re going to hold yourself to a very high standard, and then you’re going to try to bring others along if you see the opportunity to do so,” said McDaniels. “I think he’s a young guy, it’s his first year, it’s his first regular-season game. I think he probably wants to improve in a lot of things, which he has room for growth, and improvement not only as a football player but as a guy who is a leader in the offensive huddle, a guy that has certainly a lot of say in terms of how we’re going to play.”
Prepping for Wilson
The Pats will turn their attention to Sunday’s matchup with the Jets. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson is impressive on film, both with his arm, and his wheels.
Said cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino: “This guy can throw the ball a mile. You gotta stay on your coverage. Don’t come out too early. The guy’s a very talented quarterback. He has a lot of potential and a hell of an arm, so we got a great challenge this week.”
Linebackers coach Jerod Mayo agreed.
“This guy can improv with the best of them. I mean it’s tough to get him on the ground. I know he’s a smaller guy, but at the same time, you can tell he has a great lower-body strength, and he can really make all the throws,” said Mayo. “I think he’s doing a good job being able to read coverages and find the open man, so it’s going to take everyone. We’re all at the point of attacking. They have a lot of weapons on offense as well.”