Cam Newton on N'Keal Harry's red zone fumble Sunday:
“I spoke with N’Keal. Let's just put a lot of things into perspective here. Did he have a good game? Yes, he did. I think that one play overshadowed the production he did have. He bailed me out on a play, on a kind of inaccurate pass that he came down with and got the first down. He did pretty good in the run game. He had a couple contested catches. And all that was kind of for naught because a lot of people just focused on the fumble.
“And granted, I'll be the first person to tell you, he'd be the first person to tell you, he knows that’s unacceptable. But obviously, when you just put things into perspective and you call an apple an apple and a spade a spade, it was just one mistake. Him still being a young player, trying to come into his own, things like that will happen. You just want it to be minimized as much as possible, but he’s making leaps and strides as everyone would expect him to be. He’s growing up into his best self. For him, after chatting with him, he knows he has to make practice game-like, and that’s the only thing you can imagine.
“The thing that makes me and N'Keal kind of closer; I told N'Keal my spiel -- obviously, being in Carolina, I’ve had a N’Keal in my life for as long as my career has existed. Being a high-invested draft pick, dating back to Kelvin Benjamin to Devin Funchess, those young guys. Me also being young at the time, too. Then you invest in Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore, Christian McCaffrey.
“So it’s nothing new to come on a team and you have a young talent at receiver, and trying to morph him into the best player he can possibly be. I know N’Keal is buying in -- not only to my theory and methods, but also to the team as well. Plays like that are going to happen. We just hope that’s the only time it will happen."
Just so we define our terms before we begin, this is the play Cam Newton referenced in that first paragraph:
And if you're a Patriots fan, these comments should be sweet music to your ears. A soulful, bittersweet, acoustic Taylor Swift ballad in spoken word form.
N'Keal Harry is at a career crossroads a lot earlier than any player should be. But that's the reality he finds himself in. There is more negativity directed at him than any second year Patriots player I can ever remember, save for maybe Chad Jackson in 2007. The major difference being that in his rookie year, Jackson wasted no time establishing that he was a fruitcake and an insufferable dick and was out of football by 2008. Harry's sin is that he hurt his leg in training camp last year, tried to play through it in a preseason game, aggravated it and missed the first half of the season. By the time he rejoined the team, the offense was in decline, Tom Brady was growing more visibly frustrated by the week, and fairly or unfairly, a lot of that blame was put on the rookie.
So at this particular moment in history, in the fanbase's eyes, being viewed as a sort of a Gollum/Smeagol character. Either a slow, low effort guy who can't run himself open without the football IQ to know where to line up, or a guy who showed enough fight and physicality in college to draw comparisons to Keyshawn Johnson and impressed the Pats scouts enough to make him the first wideout they'd ever used a first rounder on.
He was well on his way to demonstrating he's the latter. That brainfart decision to reach for the goal line instead of take the 1st & goal confirmed the former and had everyone ready to hide the precious from him. So having Newton do what a team captain should do and add some perspective is exactly what the player and the team - and Pats fans as well - needs right now.
It's not about making excuses. This Dynasty was built on the exact opposite of excuses. It's about accountability, limiting mistakes and improving. This meme/direct quote says it all:
Errors happen. What Belichick will not tolerate are error repeaters. You don't take guy playing in his ninth career game and send him to the hot box from "Cool Hand Luke" for a dumb and even reckless decision, no matter how much the talk radio imbeciles who have already declared Harry is irredeemable would like you to. As a matter of fact, Harry was split out wide on the Pats very next play from scrimmage. And took 80% of their snaps despite the fact they were in a run-heavy gameplan. So it's fair to say that Newton's comments about the kid are a reflection of how the coaches see him as well.
I'm not saying this is all about Newton vs. Brady, but it is a factor. If there was one flaw in Brady's game (aside from the obvious lack of foot speed), it was that, when he lost confidence in a receiver, that confidence was gone for good. There were some rare exceptions. It looked like Malcolm Mitchell was in his permanent time out chair part way through his rookie season. But in Super Bowl LI, Brady went to him time and again in crucial moments. Especially during the 28-3 comeback. But for the most part, once you got on his bad side, you had to circumnavigate his emotional globe to return to the safe harbor of his good side.
Of course we still don't know which of the two crossed roads Harry is going to get on. But if the Pats are going to get some return on the investment they've made in him, this is the way to do it. In Newton's own words, you "invest" in him. Tear him down if you must, but build him back up to be the best player he can possibly be.
That's my Captain. That's my quarterback. Let's go.