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Derek Rivers’ performance was the feel-good story of the Patriots’ win over the Dolphins

Related: Patriots defense picks up right where it left off last season

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It hasn’t been an easy three years for Derek Rivers since coming into the league in 2017.

After the New England Patriots spent a third-round draft pick on him — their first of just four selections that year — he struggled with injuries over the first three seasons of his pro career. Entering Year Four, however, Rivers has seemingly put it all together: coming off a strong training camp, he proved on Sunday that he appears to be fully healthy and can be a crucial piece to the Patriots’ defensive front seven.

After New England lost Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins to free agency, and had to watch Dont’a Hightower opt out of the season, 2020 was considered a “do-or-die”-type campaign for Rivers and many felt as if he was on the outside looking in heading into camp this year. Sunday’s strong showing with a sack and a tackle playing while playing one third of the teams defensive snaps, however, served as a reminder that the 26-year-old is on the team for a reason.

His hard work against the Miami Dolphins also earned the respect of Bill Belichick in his weekly Monday morning press conference:

“Derek’s really done an incredible job,” Belichick said. “Some of the adversity he’s been through, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a down day. He’s always got a positive attitude, he works extremely hard. He always works on the things that will help him and help the team. First one in, last one out type of guy in the building. Really glad to see him out there yesterday and have an opportunity to play, and have some success and help us win.

“He’s really shown a lot of mental toughness and really an incredible amount of mental toughness over the last three years to deal with some of the setbacks that he’s had — none of which were really his fault, just bad breaks really; I don’t think he did anything wrong. That’s football, but he never had anything but a positive, hard-working, competitive attitude. He did what he could do, and rehabbed what he couldn’t do. He’s had a good camp here, good start to the season.”

Regardless of the Patriots’ 21-11 win over the Dolphins and Rivers’ individual performance during the game, it was simply gratifying to see a guy like him, who has been through so much in his career, be able to contribute and make a big play in the first game of the season. Belichick apparently feels the same way about the fourth-year defender.

“Him having the opportunity to play yesterday and go out there and help the team win was very gratifying, I know for him but for all of us: all of his teammates and other people on the team, the training staff, the strength staff, all the guys that have worked with him during that time as well to help him regain all of his physical attributes which I think he’s done a good job of and they’ve done a good job of,” he said. “It came to fruition yesterday and it was gratifying for everyone.”

Rivers himself, meanwhile, praised his support system within the Patriots organization during a media conference call on Monday:

“It’s just awesome to have that type of support from your brothers and your coaches. It’s awesome and encouraging. It just makes you want to go harder.”

With the Patriots scheduled to go up versus Seattle, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco and Buffalo in five of the next six weeks, added production from a guy like Rivers should help the Patriots defense slow down the high-powered offenses’ they are set to play against.