Patriots veterans have rallied around rookie receiver Douglas after his fumble vs. Miami
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Self-inflicted mistakes have been a recurring theme during the Patriots’ 0-2 start to the season.
As they prepare to hit the road for the first time on Sunday against the Jets, they are focusing on things big and small.
That includes taking time to remind one of their most productive rookies on offense that there are still plenty of games left to play.
Sixth-round pick Demario “Pop” Douglas was among New England’s biggest standouts during training camp, routinely hauling in sure-handed receptions despite his 5-foot-8 frame.
It made his first-quarter fumble, which led to the Dolphins’ first touchdown during New England’s 24-17 loss to Miami last week, that much more surprising.
It’s also why team veterans, including tight end Hunter Henry, made seeking out Douglas a priority when the team reconvened at the practice facility for the first time this week.
“I told him a similar story to me,” he said.
It was 2016 and the third game of Henry’s rookie season with the then-San Diego Chargers. Normally the backup to Antonio Gates, Henry was inserted into the starting lineup against the Indianapolis Colts with Gates sidelined because of a hamstring injury.
The Chargers trailed 26-22 with just over a minute left in the game.
“I catch the ball and I kind of get in the open field,” Henry recalled. “I make the first guy miss, but I’m looking at the next guy and not thinking about what’s going on and the ball gets poked out from behind. I lost the game for our team in a two-minute drive situation. … It really woke me up kind of to this level. It humbled me a lot and I learned a lot. I realized I needed to hold on to the ball a little bit tighter. I kind of conveyed that to him.”
He also was sure to let Douglas know that other opportunities would come his way.
“Pop’s a great player and we need him. He’s going to learn from this. He’s going to learn a lot from it,” Henry said.
Henry would know. His only other fumble in 91 games didn’t come until three years later in 2019.
“And that fumble might be a little questionable. We can go back on the tape and look at that one,” he joked.
Running back Rhamondre Stevenson can also empathize with the position Douglas is in. Stevenson was a rookie in 2021 when he had a fumble in New England's season opener that season. He didn't play the next three games. He also made it a point to bend Douglas' ear.
“I said, ‘The same thing happened to me and I missed a lot of games off of it. Hopefully you don’t miss as many as me off of it,'” Stevenson said, smiling. “So hopefully he gets back on the field soon. I think a young guy, the first couple of games you're just trying to get in the swing of things just like I was. Just like every rookie is in the league."
While Douglas didn’t play another offensive snap following his fumble Sunday, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien insisted this week that it was a function of second-half play-calling and not a lack of confidence in him.
The numbers support him returning to action quickly.
Douglas has already been targeted nine times over the first two games, pulling in six catches for 59 yards. His 9.8 yards per catch average is tied with Henry for the best on the team. His speed also draws attention which opens up the field for his teammates.
It's why quarterback Mac Jones said he wouldn't hesitate to put the ball in Douglas’ hands going forward.
“He’s a great player, and one play, one week doesn’t define anybody,” Jones said. “So, he’s going to come out and keep swinging. He has a lot of speed, smart kid, tough, dependable, all the stuff. So, he’s going to bounce back and so are we.”
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