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Patriots Running Backs Coach Ivan Fears: 'We Have To Protect The Damn Ball'

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots had a shot at stealing a Week 1 win away from the Miami Dolphins last Sunday. But with New England knocking on the door in the red zone, running back Damien Harris coughed up the football and ended the team's chances at a 1-0 start to the season.

Bill Belichick was pretty miffed at the team's ball security after the Patriots fumbled four times on Sunday, losing two of them. Both of those lost fumbles were on Patriots running backs, with rookie Rhamondre Stevenson also turning it over on the team's second drive of the game.

If you thought Belichick was mad after the 17-16 loss, Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears topped it on Tuesday. It was clear during his Zoom session with reporters that Fears was still peeved with his running backs for breaking the team's No. 1 rule: Take care of the football.

Or as Fears said, "hell yeah" he was disappointed.

"That hurt. It hurt everybody. The one thing we take pride in is not giving the game away, and we gave away our chance at winning the game. There is no way you feel good about it," said Fears. "The only thing we feel good about is that we get to play again and again and again.

"The one thing we preach more than anything in the world is good ball security. It was like the classic thing that you wouldn't expect to happen. Give the ball away -- give the [darn] game away by turning the ball over in the last few minutes when in scoring position," he said. "That is a hard one to accept. For Damien, that stings like a son of a gun. The whole team is sitting there, all of their faith is in you. He's had to deal with that, and I'll tell you what, he's the kind of guy who will come out of this alright."

What frustrated Fears the most with Harris' fumble was that the running back was trying to do too much on the play. With the team set up at the Miami 11, Harris' job was to pick up a few more yards so the team could eat some clock while playing for a game-winning field goal, or if things went really well, a game-winning touchdown. Harris had picked up two yards and wasn't going anywhere, but decided to keep fighting when Xavien Howard came in and stripped the ball away from him.

"You have to understand the situation. The journey was over," said Fears. "We didn't need much more. He wasn't fighting for a first down -- protect the ball with both arms and go down. We got what we needed there and then we just had to eat clock and play the game."

Ball security will be hammered home again and again and again at practice this week -- and then likely a few more times away from the football field. Harris and Stevenson will both likely be carrying a football around during all waking hours leading up to Sunday's game against the New York Jets.

"They're going to come at us and try to get the ball. We have to protect the damn ball," said Fears. "We have to get in space and run like a son of a gun, but we have to protect the ball. That's the first thing. Never forget what the No. 1 priority is, and that's don't turn the football over."

Harris has been solid as New England's lead back since taking over early last season, and he was having a solid game leading up to Sunday's fumble, racking up 100 yards on the ground on his 23 carries.

But he broke the golden rule by turning the ball over. Harris shouldered the blame for Sunday's loss when he took the podium after the game, and Fears is confident that the second-year back will bounce back well from this early season adversity.

"He's going to have some tough situations and people are going to come after him. They're going to come after the daggone ball," said Fears. "I feel confident Damien will step up to the plate with this. I really do. We have not had a problem with him, so I think we'll be alright."


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