PITTSBURGH — The New England Patriots had one James White replacement in their 2022 season opener. In Week 2, they had two.
With new third-down back Ty Montgomery landing on injured reserve following the Patriots’ Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson shared his responsibilities during Sunday’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Both running backs played on third downs and other passing situations, and though neither provided much receiving production, Bill Belichick was pleased with how they jointly filled that important offensive role in New England’s 17-14 victory at Acrisure Stadium.
“I think Ty played most all the third downs last week against Miami, except for maybe one or two, and the two-minute (drill),” the Patriots head coach said in his Monday morning video conference. “So Damien and Mondre did a real nice job of stepping in in those situations (on Sunday).”
Harris and Stevenson both are capable pass-catchers, but neither has much experience playing on third downs at the NFL level. White had been the Patriots’ go-to guy in that position in recent years, with Brandon Bolden filling in after White’s season-ending injury last fall and Montgomery taking over this offseason after coming over from New Orleans in free agency.
But Montgomery, who scored the Patriots’ lone Week 1 touchdown, will be unavailable until at least Week 6, and Belichick felt comfortable expanding Harris’ and Stevenson’s workloads. Stevenson played a total of 42 snaps against Pittsburgh, with Harris playing 27. They were on the field for 11 and eight third-down plays, respectively, per Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus.
“We got a good third-down conversion from Mondre on third-and-6, third-and-7 on sub run,” Belichick said. “Pittsburgh has a couple different looks on that that they mixed up there; I thought all those guys handled it well. We miss Ty, but both of those players have some experience in the passing game. They’re both good. They can handle the ball. So we were able to use them and still maintain all of the protections that we’d usually use in those situations.”
Belichick said the Patriots did not need to alter their protection plans with Montgomery sidelined. Harris and Stevenson both fared well in blitz pickup, with the offense as a whole surrendering zero sacks and just three quarterback hits against a talented Steelers front that was missing 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt.
“We didn’t have to modify anything (on Sunday), so that was good,” Belichick said. “And when (the Steelers) did (blitz), I thought that both backs stepped up and blocked the linebackers pretty competitively, so that was good, too.”
Most of Harris’ and Stevenson’s contributions Sunday came as rushers, as they finished with 15 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown and nine carries for 47 yards, respectively. Forty-five of their combined rushing yards came on a victory-clinching drive that burned the final 6:33 off the game clock. Harris caught two passes on two targets for 16 yards in the win. Stevenson caught one of two targets for 4 yards.
Fourth-round rookie running back Pierre Strong was active for the first time in Montgomery’s absence, but he only played on special teams. All three of his offensive snaps were game-ending kneeldowns.