BOSTON (CBS) -- For the bulk of the Patriots' dynastic run, ball security was as much of a staple in the organization as Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft. If there was one thing that the Patriots didn't tolerate, it was fumbling away the football.
Now, of course, Tom Brady is long gone. And so is that ability to hold on to the football.
On Sunday, Damien Harris fumbled just before crossing the goal line, costing the Patriots points and giving the ball to Houston. That was Harris' second fumble of the season, as he lost the ball on a potential game-winning drive vs. Miami in Week 1. Rhamondre Stevenson also fumbled in that game, and J.J. Taylor lost a fumble vs. the Buccaneers in Week 4. (Tight end Jonnu Smith also lost a fumble, and quarterback Mac Jones has two fumbles which the Patriots recovered.)
When longtime running backs coach Ivan Fears spoke to the media on Tuesday, fumbling was obviously a main topic. Fears was asked about Texans head coach David Culley's comment about the Houston defense opting to try to force a fumble rather than letting the Patriots score late in the game, and how frustrating it is to have that reputation as a fumbling team.
"That's our reputation right now. That's not a secret now, let's be honest. It would be crazy for anybody to think anything other than that," Fears said. "We've turned the ball over on key situations going in for scores. That would have given us two games by now. That would have made the difference in two games. So that is a fact that we've got to deal with and we're gonna have to -- it's gonna take us all year to get that out of people's mind. All year. And believe me, we're going to be working at it, it's not something where anybody's happy about. I don't think the players are happy about it, we're not happy about it. But we've got to -- the only way you change that stat is you do it during play. That's when you change it."
As far as the backfield is concerned, Fears said the simplest issue at play seems to be the running backs allowing some separation between the ball and their bodies.
"It looks like it just came out a little too easy," Fears said of Harris' most recent fumble. "I think it got -- it must have been away from him a little bit. You know we don't have great angles on it. It just looked like he was under, it looks like he has a great body lane, he wasn't running upright, and the guy, it was a good punch. But that's something we've got to be -- at that point, going in for a score. Gah! It's got to be the most important thing on his mind. I don't care. It's got to be the most important thing on his mind."
The emphasis on ball security remains in place, of course, but the results haven't quite been there. With now an added emphasis, Fears was asked if running backs can become too focused on securing the ball, thus making them less effective runners.
"Damn, now you want me to be a psychiatrist? I mean, come on!" Fears joked. "Yeah, I'm sure there's some truth to that. Who knows -- who really knows? The point is, he's got to understand how important it is to carry the ball. And if he carries it with the right technique, the right emphasis on proper handling of the football at all times, I don't think we'll have this problem. Now Damien has been very successful in carrying the ball all year last year. And then this year, I'm not sure exactly what's going through his mind at certain times there. It seems to be something that we're going to have to stay on top of and keep working at.
"Now, I don't want to change who he is as a runner," Fears continued. "That's important to us, because production is based on running hard, being a physical runner and getting extra yards, and all those things are very important. But somewhere along the line we got understand that if we let the ball go, it's a problem. It's a real problem. And we can't have the ball out of our hands. That's important."
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