When the New England Patriots released their injury report on Thursday afternoon, a season-high 17 players were listed: 12 were limited during the session, with five more missing it altogether. While their upcoming opponent, the New York Jets, also had 13 players listed on its practice report, the number certainly is significant from a bigger-picture perspective and for a team trying to build some momentum as it keeps fighting for its playoff life.
One of the Patriots’ limited participants on Thursday was Damien Harris.
The second-year running back has been dealing with an ankle ailment ever since last week, when he first popped up on Wednesday’s injury report. The issue did not limit appear to limit him too much against the Buffalo Bills, though, as he finished the game with 20 offensive snaps as well as 16 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown. Harris is also expected to be good to go against the Jets.
“I feel fine,” he said during a media conference call following Thursday’s first practice of the week.
While the Patriots therefore will not have to worry too much about one of their most consistent performers on the offensive side of the ball this season, the other names on the list include some cornerstones the team could ill-afford to lose for an extended period of time — most prominently defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (shoulder/elbow/knee) and cornerback Stephon Gilmore (knee), both of whom absent on Thursday.
Harris, however, does not ring the alarm bell when talking about the team’s injury woes during his presser. Essentially, he followed the company line of not speaking about injuries and keeping the focus on self-improvement rather than any factors beyond the players’ and coaches’ control.
“That’s not really a conversation that I want to get into. It’s not what I’m paid for, to assess things like that,” Harris said about New England’s current injury status. “All I know is when we go out there on the field, what we’ve got is what we’ve got. The situation is what it is, and we have to go out there and execute. We have to go out there and be better than we were the day before.
“We can’t control situations like that. The biggest thing here is controlling what you can control. So, that’s just what it is. We just got to go out and find ways to get better and find ways to go out there and get a win on Monday.”
Harris himself is no stranger to the impact injuries can have on players and the overall composition of the team, though. He started the regular season on injured reserve after undergoing a minor procedure on his pinky finger, and did not return to the field until Week 4. The Patriots’ lead back up until that point, Sony Michel, had just gone to IR himself because of a quad injury, giving Harris an opportunity for an increased role.
The former third-round draft pick literally took it and ran with it: he carried the football 49 times over the last four games while gaining an average of 5.1 yards per attempt for a total of 279. Harris also scored his first career touchdown along the way and added two catches for 26 combined yards.
With Michel returning to practice on Monday but not yet officially activated off injured reserve, Harris will again have to fight for his opportunities. His past production in combination with his mindset, however, should help him keep a prominent role regardless of Michel’s status.
“Going out there and competing for this team is something I’ll never take for granted,” he said on Thursday. “Every day in practice, games, walkthroughs, film, you name it, I’m glad to be here. I’m very thankful for this opportunity, I have been since the day I was drafted.
“Just having this opportunity to go out there and improve, to go out there with this team, and to work on getting better, and just try to stay together, continue to have faith in one another, continue to trust in each other, just build so we can get this ship turned around, it’s incredibly important. It means a lot to me, I know it means a lot to everybody in this organization. We just have to keep putting our head down and keep working.”