After falling behind 22-0 in their game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Christmas Eve, the New England Patriots appeared destined to complete the improbable comeback. Down 22-18 with just under a minute left in the game, the team found itself deep in the Cincinnati red zone and driving for the potential game-winning score.
In order to burn some clock and position themselves for the touchdown, the Patriots relied on their most productive players: running back Rhamondre Stevenson carried the ball twice after New England had entered the red area.
The first carry covered seven yards and ended at the Cincinnati 9-yard line. The second ended in disaster.
Stevenson lost control of the football while being driven back by the defense, with Bengals defensive tackle B.J. Hill recovering the fumble for a turnover. Cincinnati would eventually end up winning the game, even after going three-and-out on its next possession.
Stevenson faced the music after the game, talking to reporters about the play in question.
“Got the ball, trying to make something happen,” the sophomore running back said. “Probably doing more than I was supposed to do. Probably should have just went down, but ultimately he took the ball from me and I fumbled.”
The play was Stevenson’s second late-game gaffe in as many weeks.
In Week 15 against the Las Vegas Raiders and with the score at 24-24, he was trusted with the ball on the final play of regulation. Stevenson decided to lateral it back to Jakobi Meyers, kicking off a chain reaction that ended with Las Vegas scoring the game-winning touchdown.
Now, Stevenson was again involved in what amounts to a game-losing play from his team’s perspective. So, what message can he get from his teammates after back-to-back disappointing endings?
“There’s not a message to him,” said safety Adrian Phillips. “If you go back and look at our whole season, he’s been pretty much our best player on the offensive side of the ball. He knows how much it means for him to be able to put the team in a position to win. Things didn’t swing his way. For whatever reason, it just didn’t swing his way. There’s nothing that needs to be said. We just console him and tell him, ‘You’re still a dog. We still love you.’”
To his credit, Stevenson did not just show accountability with the media after the Bengals game but his teammates as well: he went up to every offensive lineman afterwards to apologize for his fumble.