PITTSBURGH — There’s a reason why people call New England Patriots safety Duron Harmon, “The Closer.” And it’s not just because we originally gave him that nickname back in 2015.
Here are some fun facts:
— Harmon has 13 career interceptions, including playoffs, and 10 of them have come in the fourth quarter.
— Six of his 10 fourth-quarter interceptions have come with less than two minutes left in the game.
— Three of Harmon’s four interceptions this season have come with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter of wins.
— The Patriots have never lost a game in which Harmon has intercepted a pass.
Harmon closes out games.
He did it again Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger faked a spike, then targeted wide receiver Eli Rogers on a slant. Cornerback Eric Rowe batted the pass away, and it popped into Harmon’s arms for the pick.
Harmon kneeled in the end zone for a touchback, and quarterback Tom Brady kneeled from the 20-yard line to seal a 27-24 win.
So, why is Harmon always hauling in fourth-quarter interceptions? It stems from why he’s on the field at all.
“Duron is around the ball,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “He reads the quarterback and the ball well. So does Devin (McCourty). Those guys give us a lot of range and plays back there from their position.”
That’s the job of a free safety.
“Just trying to be around the ball, always trying to be around the ball,” Harmon said. “Always trying to read the quarterback and just trying to get around the ball. You never know with a tip or a missed throw, high throw, just always trying to break to where the ball is, because then you get stuff like that, tips.”
The Patriots lacked a dependable free safety for years until they moved McCourty back there from cornerback in 2012. Then they drafted Harmon in 2013, and they’ve had two stellar performers at the same position ever since, which allows them to be versatile on defense. New England has moved McCourty to more of a hybrid role this season because of Harmon’s play. Harmon has seen his defensive snaps grow from under 50 percent in 2016 to over 69 percent this season after signing a four-year contract over the offseason.
Patriots fans can be a fickle bunch. The Patriots are on a run of unmatched success, so expectations are abnormally high. That leads to fans turning on players when they struggle for stretches. But Harmon rarely lapses. He does his job as a free safety, and he makes big plays to boot. Harmon is annually one of the team’s most consistent defenders, and he gets the recognition he deserves when he makes his fourth-quarter picks.
“If it keeps happening, we need him,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. “Especially that one. God, against the Steelers. That was a fight.”
Thumbnail photo via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images