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Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears hopes those grating fumbles can be a teaching moment

Running backs coach Ivan Fears could not mask his irritation at the costly turnovers in Sunday's opener.
Running backs coach Ivan Fears could not mask his irritation at the costly turnovers in Sunday's opener.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Ivan Fears needed some closure after the Patriots failed to close out their opener against the Dolphins, the final nail in the coffin being Damien Harris’s red-zone fumble.

The veteran running backs coach, always one to wear his heart on his sleeve, couldn’t hide his disappointment even two days after the 17-16 loss.

“Hell yeah, you know it. You can’t like that. That hurt. It hurt everybody,” Fears said Tuesday.

“One thing we usually take pride in is not giving the game away. We gave ourselves — we took away a chance for us to win the game. We can’t do that. We can’t do that.

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“There’s no way you feel good about that. We’ve got to play again, and that’s the only good thing we have going here is that we get to play again and again. Hopefully, we get to put this one behind us. Put some doggone solid play and dependable play.”

Damien Harris lost the handle late in Sunday's contest, derailing a potential comeback win for New England.
Damien Harris lost the handle late in Sunday's contest, derailing a potential comeback win for New England.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Harris owned the bumble and said he wouldn’t let it derail his season. Fears has no doubt Harris will bounce back, but the coach shouldered part of the blame, believing he should have been in the back’s ear with a reminder following Jonathan Jones’s interception.

“No. 1, in that situation, you’ve got to understand the situation,” said Fears, noting that the turnover came at the 9-yard line. “The journey was over. We didn’t need much more. He wasn’t fighting for a first down.

“The second it was over, protect the ball with both arms and get what you can get and let’s go down. We got what we needed there. Let’s eat some clock and play the game.

“That was the thing to hit on with that one. I didn’t get a chance to; we were moving the ball, he was on the field. I didn’t get a chance to give him any help on that.”

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Harris’s fumble was the second by one of Fears’s charges, as Rhamondre Stevenson coughed one up after a short reception in the first half.

Though close inspection of the video appears to show Stevenson was down before the pigskin squirted free, the call on the field was fumble and it was upheld on review.

Fears’s hope is that this will be a teaching moment for the rookie.

Ivan Fears hopes the young running backs learn from their mistakes Sunday.
Ivan Fears hopes the young running backs learn from their mistakes Sunday.Steven Senne/Associated Press

“You’ve got to understand how important that ball is,” he said. “I hope he learns from Damien — the situation — and how devastating it is when you give up the ball. [Ball security] has got to become No. 1.

“He’s got to learn that no matter when the ball comes you, even though you may think you’re down, everything doesn’t always back you. So, hand the ball to the official, is what you’ve got to do. That should be your goal.

“He’s got to learn that lesson. He’s a hell of a back but he’s got to learn that lesson. Can’t play the other way.”

If the Patriots decide to shake things up in the backfield for this Sunday’s game against the Jets in the Meadowlands, Fears has full confidence in J.J. Taylor, who put together his second straight strong summer but is caught in a bit of a numbers crunch this season.

“Last year, J.J. would step up,” said Fears. “Whenever he was asked to play, he’d make some plays. The guy’s a doggone good back, and he’s just got to wait for his shot.

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“He had a hell of a week last week in practice as a scout-team guy, helping us and helping the defense. He’s ready.

“We’re always looking at those situations. And hopefully he’ll have another good doggone week. He’s definitely someone that we’d like to think about.”

The Patriots had running back Nathan Cottrell (Georgia Tech), offensive tackle Derwin Gray (Maryland), guard Jordan Meredith (Western Kentucky), and defensive back Linden Stephens (Cincinnati) in for free agent workouts … The NFL assigned referee Shawn Hochuli and his crew for Sunday’s game. Hochuli drew praise from Bill Belichick for his work during the joint practices in Philadelphia. For the record, this crew called 19 penalties in the season opener between the Cowboys and Buccaneers last Thursday … Patriots Hall of Fame running back Kevin Faulk is mourning the loss of his daughter, Kevione, who died Monday. She was 19. Kevin Faulk is in his second year as the running backs coach at LSU, his alma mater. His daughter was a student at the school and worked for the team. Her cause of death is so far undisclosed.


Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.