It sure looks like 39-year-old James Harrison still has plenty left in the tank.
After tallying two sacks in his Patriots debut, the former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker put forth another strong performance Saturday night against the Tennessee Titans, helping limit Derrick Henry to 28 rushing yards on 12 carries as New England cruised to a 35-14 victory in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
“He’s been good to work with,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Sunday in a conference call. “He’s, as we know, a very experienced player, and even though some of our terminology is different, he understands basic football concepts very well and what his responsibility is and how to play that responsibility. So he’s been good. He’s been very dependable. The things he’s been asked to do, he’s done.
“You can count on him, and that’s a good thing. It allows everybody to play aggressively, and he’s an aggressive player.”
Harrison played 30 of the Patriots’ 67 defensive snaps against the Titans, with most of his playing time coming on early downs. He rushed the passer and dropped back into coverage but was most effective as a run defender, setting a strong edge that cut off Henry’s running lanes.
On the Titans’ first possession, Harrison overpowered tight end Delanie Walker and used one hand to tackle Henry — who is listed at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds — for no gain.
Later in the game, Harrison stood up tight end Jonnu Smith on an off-tackle handoff to Henry. As the running back bounced outside, Smith was called for holding, turning a second-and-3 into a second-and-13.
Tennessee’s next five offensive plays after Harrison’s drawn hold: 6-yard completion, sack, punt, sack, sack. He finished with three tackles in the win.
“He’s been productive,” Belichick said. “He had several good plays against the run (Saturday) night and caused a penalty that was part of stopping a drive with his good play out there on the perimeter. He’s given us some plays in pass rush, and he’s got good awareness in pass coverage. He’s dropped into coverage and done a good job on that — a couple examples of that in the last two games.
“He’s been good to work with. He wants to do well, studies, asks questions. I’ve enjoyed working with him.”
Harrison, who won two Super Bowls during his time with Pittsburgh, will play in his fourth career AFC Championship Game next Sunday afternoon at Gillette.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images