FOXBORO, Mass. — It got lost in the shuffle of Sunday’s blowout win over the Detroit Lions, but the Patriots suffered a potentially significant injury in their backfield.
Running back Damien Harris exited during the first half at Gillette Stadium due to a hamstring injury and didn’t return. Harris, who’s started every game for New England this season, ran four times for 11 yards before leaving the game. The 25-year-old has been one of the NFL’s top running backs in 2022 and is a key piece to a Patriots rushing attack that might be the best in the game. The Patriots as of Sunday night hadn’t offered an injury update on Harris, but hamstring issues can linger a while.
With Harris out, second-year back Rhamondre Stevenson assumed a larger role and put on a show, gashing the Lions for 161 yards on 25 carries. Bill Belichick hardly could contain himself while talking about Stevenson during his postgame press conference.
You easily could argue that Stevenson is the best back on the Patriots roster. In that sense, New England largely should be fine if Harris is forced to miss time. But Stevenson can’t do everything, and the Patriots are at their best when utilizing two, if not three, running backs on gameday.
So, how could New England replace Harris?
Let’s start with Ty Montgomery.
The versatile back is eligible to come off injured reserve this week. Once Montgomery returns the practice, the Patriots will have 21 days to either activate him or rule him out for the entire season. It’s unclear how much progress Montgomery has made since Week 1 when he aggravated a knee injury that he initially suffered during the preseason finale against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Montgomery had a large role during the summer and was heavily involved in the season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins. If he’s healthy, Montgomery likely will see a large amount of playing time — regardless of whether Harris is healthy.
Now let’s talk about the rookies.
Fourth-rounder Pierre Strong was inactive Sunday for the second time this season. He did a whole lot of nothing during training camp and seemingly is a long way away from contributing. That said, Strong was highly touted ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft and allegedly has the talent to be a dangerous running back.
Fellow rookie Kevin Harris, taken in the sixth round, is on the practice squad after being waived ahead of roster cutdowns in August. Only the Patriots know how he’s progressed since an underwhelming showing during the summer.
Lastly, veteran J.J. Taylor also is on the practice squad after being a casualty of cutdown day. He entered the summer with legitimate hopes of replacing James White as the primary passing-down back but was beaten out by Montgomery. Taylor has undeniable talent, but the Patriots’ refusal to give him any playing time probably tells you all you need to know. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Taylor elevated from the practice squad next Sunday if Harris can’t play.
The Patriots will visit the Cleveland Browns in Week 6 with kickoff set for 1 p.m. ET.