By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Sometimes, one big mistake can undo a lot of positives. That's how it went on Sunday for Patriots second-year wideout N'Keal Harry, who caught five of his six targets from Cam Newton for 39 yards but committed a fumble through the end zone that momentarily swung momentum in a game that the Patriots eventually won over the Dolphins, 21-11.
We're a demanding, fastidious bunch here in the Boston sports media. So when Harry loses the football instead of tucking it tightly down by the goal line, we wonder where he's at with his attention to detail. But it's not totally fair to assume that a player in his second season, having only been on the active roster for eight games as a rookie, is going to have every detail down perfectly. Mistakes happen.
That's the message that Newton delivered in stark detail to reporters during a Wednesday video conference. This is far from the first time Newton has worked with young, highly touted receivers. When asked how he communicates with a player like Harry after a mistake like his fumble, he had his receiver's back.
"I spoke with N’Keal and lets just put a lot of things into perspective here," Newton said. "Did he have a good game? Yes he did. I think that one play overshadowed the production the the did have. He bailed me out on a play, an 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 of 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, he knows – or he would be the first person to tell you that he knows that’s unacceptable. But obviously when you put things into perspective and 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 them to be minimized as much as possible.
"But he’s making leaps and strides as everyone would expect them to be. He’s growing up into his best self and for him, after chatting with him, he knows. He knows he has to make practice game-like and that’s the only thing that you can imagine. The thing that makes me and N’Keal closer is I told him my spiel, obviously being in 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, me also being young at the time too, and investing in Curtis Samuel, DJ Moore, Christian McCaffrey, so it’s nothing new to come on a team and you have a young talent at receiver and trying to morph him into the best player he can possibly be. And I know N’Keal is buying in, not only to my theory and methods but to the team’s as well and plays like that are going to happen, we just hope it’s the only time it will happen."
The key for Harry, now, is that he lives up to the promise that Sunday was the last time we'll see him fumble, particularly in that area of the field. Bill Belichick is known for drilling into his players to worry more about protecting the ball than anything else when you're in the red zone or down by the goal line.
Harry did make some plays that he can build on against the Dolphins. As always, the goal is to get better and correct mistakes. He will always have a heightened level of scrutiny on him as a first-round pick. But it's refreshing to see that he has a quarterback who knows what it's like to see the growing pains of young receivers, and has the experience in bringing them along to the level they need to achieve.
The Seahawks have a pair of big, skilled cornerbacks in Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar. It will be interesting to see how Pete Carroll matches his secondary up against Harry, and how the sophomore responds after last Sunday.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at [email protected].