Bill Belichick Couldn’t Be Happier To Have Derek Rivers Back For Patriots

"Derek’s really done an incredible job"

by Zack Cox

September 14, 2020

Late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Derek Rivers muscled through two Miami Dolphins linemen to drop Ryan Fitzpatrick for a sack.

It wasn’t the most important play in New England’s season-opening 21-11 win — the Patriots were flagged for pass interference one play later, giving the Dolphins a first down — but it was particularly meaningful to Rivers — and his head coach.

Rivers, the Patriots’ top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, missed the entirety of his first and third pro seasons with knee injuries. In his lone active season, he played sparingly, seeing action in just six regular-season games and one playoff game in 2018.

Sunday’s contest was Rivers’ first since New England’s divisional-round win over the Los Angeles Chargers in the 2018 postseason. The sack was just the second of his NFL career.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick spoke positively about Rivers’ resolve and development during training camp. On Monday, he practically was overflowing with praise for the 26-year-old edge rusher.

“Derek?s really done an incredible job,” Belichick said in a video conference. “You mentioned some of the adversity he?s been through, but I don?t think I?ve ever really seen him in a down day. He?s always got a positive attitude, he works extremely hard, he always works on the things that will help him and help the team — kind of the ‘first one in and last one out’ type of guy in the building.

“(I was) eally glad to see him out there (Sunday) and have an opportunity to play and have some success and help us win, but he?s really showed a lot of mental toughness — really an incredible amount of mental toughness — over the last three years to deal with some of the setbacks that he?s had, none of which were really his fault. Just bad breaks, really. I don?t think he did anything wrong, it?s just that?s football. But he never had anything but a positive, hard-working, competitive attitude. He did what he could do, and he rehabbed what he couldn?t do.

“He?s had a good camp here, good start to the season, and him having the opportunity to play yesterday and go out and help the team win was very gratifying, I know for him, but for all of us — all of his teammates and other people on the team and the training staff, strength staff, all the guys that have worked with him during that time as well to help him regain all of his physical attributes, which I think he?s done a good job of and they?ve done a good job of. But it came to fruition yesterday. As I said, I think that was gratifying for everyone.”

Rivers played 20 defensive snaps against the Dolphins as part of an outside linebacker rotation that featured starters Chase Winovich and John Simon and sub rusher Shilique Calhoun.

Winovich, who’s in his second season with the Patriots, said it’s hard not to root for Rivers.

“I absolutely love Derek,” Winovich said Monday. “Football’s one of those weird dynamics where you’re kind of — there’s no guaranteed money for the most part, so you’re pitted against guys in the same room for a competition. So from a friendship dynamic, it’s kind of weird.

“But Derek’s personality — I’ve talked to him about this before — it kind of transcends that. He’s a great dude, and he’s a great teammate, so anytime you have a guy like that that’s clearly selfless get a sack and has been working hard, you just get fired up for him. I was one of the first people over there to help celebrate with them.

“But hopefully, he’s got a lot more coming. When the tide rises, it raises all the ships. So we’re definitely pulling for Derek.”

Speaking with reporters Monday in a video call, Rivers repeatedly called his journey back to the field “a blessing.”

“It’s just a blessing to be out there with your brothers and your teammates,” he said. “It was fun. It was cool. At the time, obviously focusing on the game, and then getting a sack is always fun. It was just a blessing to be out there with the fellas again and just having the support of your teammates and your family like that. Man, it’s just a blessing.”

Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images
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