The final one of his five receptions against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday could very well have been N’Keal Harry’s biggest one of the day — a potential touchdown in the first game playing with quarterback Cam Newton. Instead, it turned into a disaster: the New England Patriots’ first-round draft pick from a year ago lost the football as he was racing towards the pylon, with the fumble rolling through the end zone and out of bounds.
Touchback, Miami football.
The turnover helped the Dolphins stay in the game at 14-3 and gain some momentum as they embarked on a touchdown drive immediately following Harry’s fumble. It did not matter in the grand scheme of things as New England still came away with a 21-11 victory, but the play was a bad final catch for a player who otherwise had a very solid opening game — at least as far as his quarterback is concerned.
“I spoke with N’Keal. Let’s just put a lot of things into perspective here,” said Cam Newton during a media conference call on Wednesday. “Did he have a good game? Yes, he did. I think that one play overshadowed the production he did have. He bailed me out on a play, on a kind of inaccurate pass that he came down with and got the first down. He did pretty good in the run game. He had a couple of contested catches. And all that was kind of for naught because a lot of people just focused on the fumble.
“And granted, I’ll be the first person to tell you, or he’d be the first person to tell you, he knows that’s unacceptable. But obviously, when you just put things into perspective, and you call an apple an apple, and a spade a spade, it was just one mistake. Him still being a young player, trying to come into his own, things like that will happen. You just want it to be minimized as much as possible.”
Harry and Newton had a solid connection on Sunday. Before the fumble, the pair connected five times for 39 yards with the receiver setting new career-highs in both categories along the way. And the Patriots’ first-year quarterback knows that the team’s second-year receiver is progressing not just from a statistical perspective, but also when it comes to his potential importance for a quarterback whose only truly established downfield receiving weapon is a 34-year-old Julian Edelman.
“He’s making leaps and strides as everyone would expect him to be,” said Newton about Harry. “He’s growing up into his best self. For him, after chatting with him, he knows he has to make practice game-like, and that’s the only thing you can imagine. The thing that makes me and N’Keal even more closer; I told N’Keal my spiel. Obviously being at Carolina, I’ve had a N’Keal in my life for as long as my career has existed.
“Being a high-invested draft pick, dating back to Kelvin Benjamin, to Devin Funchess, to those guys — me also being young at the time too — then you invest inn Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore, Christian McCaffrey. So it’s nothing new [for me] to come on a team and you have young talent at receiver, and trying to morph him into the best player he can possibly be. I know N’Keal is buying in, not only to my theory and methods but also to the team as well.”
Newton taking the 22-year-old under his wing is an encouraging development for Harry and the receiving corps as a whole: the youngster, who was on the field for 51 of a possible 64 offensive snaps on Sunday, will play a big role within the offense moving forward. He better get on the same page with his quarterback and develop a chemistry — something he failed to do with Tom Brady last year, albeit under different circumstances.
Still, Harry enjoying his quarterback’s trust is a positive especially when plays like last week’s fumble happen. Newton, after all, is setting the right tone for his whole supporting cast as he showed again on Wednesday.
“Plays like that are going to happen,” he said. “We just hope that’s the only time it will happen.”