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Jan. 2—Underplayed story of the 2021 New England Patriots season?


It’s Damien Harris establishing himself as a legitimate No. 1, put-team-on-shoulder, running back.

Lost in the Buffalo Bills dumpster fire last Sunday afternoon was the fact the Patriots played bad enough to get blown out by three or four scores.

There was one problem, at least as far as the Bills were concerned: Harris was elite.

The Patriots didn’t do much right last Sunday, yet there they were, with 7:37 remaining in the game, within striking distance, 26-21, en route to a mini-comeback.

Harris had scored his third touchdown at that time, a 16-yarder to tie the game at 7-7 to open the second quarter, an 1-yarder to get the Patriots within 20-14 in the third quarter, and his finale from 8 yards out.

Harris finished with 103 yards on 18 carries, his fifth “100-yard game,” but this was more than hitting the number.

Harris has established himself as the kind of running back Bill Belichick has won championships with — tough and touchdown-producing.

One difference between Harris and the previous, key “Super Bowl” dudes that Belichick has had here over the last two decades — Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon and LeGarrette Blount — is Harris’ explosion.

His 31-yarder on the Patriots’ first offensive play of the third quarter, with the Pats down 20-7, got them back in the game at least for a while, finishing it off with a 1-yard plunge.

The same thing happened in Buffalo three weeks earlier, in that sub-freezing wind storm, when Harris blew up the middle for a 64-yarder that basically changed the game in the first quarter.

“(Damien) has a ton of respect from every player and coach in this organization, as he should, because he’s earned that. That’s not something you get from talking or some kind of a false image,” said Belichick. “You get it from day-after-day, consistent performance and dedication, and he’s the poster boy for that. He works extremely hard and takes his job very seriously and always tries to perform at the absolute highest level and do what’s best for the team.

“So he has everybody’s — he’s earned everybody’s respect for that. That’s not anything that’s given. He’s put in the blood, the sweat and he’s earned it.”

Remember, Harris season started as the No. 1 guy here with him putting the ball on the turf while setting up for a game-winning field goal.

Many assumed he would be sent to the bench, possibly letting the new kid, Rhamondre Stevenson, getting his chance.

It never happened. Belichick stuck with Harris and Harris has proven his worth.

It’s a good sign not just for today and mid-January of 2022, but going forward next fall and the fall after that.

While the Patriots try to establish themselves as a consistent Super Bowl threat early in the Mac Jones Era, Harris being “the guy” appears to be the way to go.

But if we’ve learned anything over the last two decades, the future is now and Harris has shown he can not only carry the load and help the Patriots win, but if others do their jobs properly, Harris can carry the load and lead.

Harris may not get the publicity Mac or Matthew Judon get, but this team’s grit and resurgence in 2021 has as much to do with Harris as it does anybody.

You can email Bill Burt at