With the New England Patriots missing several starting skill position players Monday night, they were forced to turn elsewhere for offensive production. That included rookie running backs Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong Jr.
After the two backs combined for just 23 offensive touches all season entering the week, they handled the ball 15 total times Monday night. They combined for 96 yards on the ground on 13 carries, while both found the end zone for the first time in their careers.
“Yeah. It was great,” Bill Belichick said. “They got an opportunity and made some big plays. We’ll see if they can sustain it, show up week after week and people will start looking for them.”
Their skillsets were on display throughout the night, as Harris flashed his power on his score and Strong showcased his 4.37-speed on several occasions.
“It was a little bit of a hectic injury game for us,” Mac Jones said postgame. “But we couldn’t control those things and when Rhamondre [Stevenson] went down, he’s one of our best players, those guys stepped up. With Damien [Harris] out they had to step up.
“The thing I told Kevin [Harris] was, ‘it’s like SEC football, so go out there, do your thing, you’ve played against really good teams and that’s what it is. Pierre, it’s the same thing. You’re a young guy, but really fast.’ He uses his speed well. They did a great job and they’re going to have to step up again. The rookies did a great job. I’m super proud of them and they just want to help the team win and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
A larger role from both backs could help a struggling Patriots’ offense. Even if Damien Harris (thigh) us nearing a return and Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) did not appear to suffer a long term injury, New England was desperate for a reliable third option out of the backfield.
“Everybody’s got a role, and when their number is called hopefully they’ll come through for us. These guys work hard,” Belichick said.
Beyond the rookie running backs, New England also expanded rookie Marcus Jones’ offensive role Monday night. As he showed against Buffalo, he is a threat to score any time he touches the ball and is a much-needed big play threat. While he only recorded one touch against Arizona, his usage as a decoy opened holes for other receivers.
“It’s cool to have him helping where he can,” Mac Jones said. “The kid’s on special teams, hitting people on defense, and covering really good receivers, then coming over and running full speed on motions and running routes.
“Really great leadership from him and a vocal guy. He’s a young guy, but to show that he’s going to give it 100 percent no matter what his role is is pretty cool. I felt like he did that tonight and we’re definitely going to expand on that. The guys want to be out there and the guys that play hard are going to be out there. We have a really good group.”
When they needed it the most, the Patriots’ rookie class showed up yet again in a big way.