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Demario Douglas was benched after a fumble, but the Patriots’ roster isn’t talented enough to keep weapons off the field

Bradley Chubb forced a Demario Douglas fumble in the first quarter on Sunday night, sparking the Dolphins on their first touchdown drive of the game and appearing to relegate Douglas to special teams duty.Greg M. Cooper/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH — Patriots rookie Demario Douglas fumbled the ball during the first quarter Sunday night against Miami and never took another offensive snap.

As New England’s passing attack attempted — and failed — to overcome an early 10-point deficit, Douglas could have been a potential spark, but the coaching staff kept the sixth-round draft pick off the field for each of the remaining offensive drives. Douglas’s subsequent snaps came only as the team’s punt returner after Marcus Jones suffered a shoulder injury.

Asked about the decision to bench Douglas, coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t elaborate.

“We played all of our skill players,” Belichick said after New England’s 24-17 loss, which dropped the team to 0-2. “They all played.”


When I pointed out specifically that Douglas did not play after his fumble, Belichick would not correlate the drop in playing time to the turnover.

“Look, we had a lot of production on offense,” Belichick said. “[DeVante] Parker had a good day. [Mike] Gesicki had a good day. Hunter [Henry] had a good day. JuJu [Smith-Schuster], KB [Kendrick Bourne]. Lot of good players. We can’t play everybody.”

On New England’s second drive, with the offense in Dolphins territory, Douglas made a critical third-down catch to keep the possession alive. But after he had already clinched the first down, Douglas continued to fight for more yardage. Dolphins linebacker Bradley Chubb tracked him down, covering 12 yards in 2.4 seconds and managing to knock the ball loose while making the tackle.

“I got to remember that people are still chasing after me from behind,” Douglas said.

After safety DeShon Elliott recovered the ball at Miami’s 27-yard line, the Dolphins strung together an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive and extended their lead to 10-0.

The costly turnover marked the end of Douglas’s night, but the Patriots should not have frozen him out. Their roster cannot afford to do so, despite what Belichick says.


(Remember: The Patriots did not bench Ezekiel Elliott after his first-quarter fumble led to an Eagles touchdown in Week 1.)

“Look, we could talk about this every week,” Belichick said. “There will be somebody that played less than somebody else. We’ve got a lot of skilled players.”

Was Douglas trying to do too much? Sure, maybe he should have just accepted the first down. Could he have exhibited better ball security? Obviously.

Without any coverage-dictating playmakers on their roster, however, the Patriots still should have used Douglas the remainder of the game. The sixth-round pick caught four of his seven targets for 40 yards and two first downs in Week 1, showing off his quickness and elusiveness in the open field.

The individual talent gap between the Patriots’ offense and that of their opponents is vast. Very rarely — if ever — will they have the best skill position player on the field this season. Just look at the wide receivers from their first four opponents: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Garrett Wilson, and CeeDee Lamb. All would unquestionably be the No. 1 receiver in New England.

The strength of the Patriots’ passing attack lies within the collective. Based on their decisions from training camp through Week 1, the Patriots clearly value Douglas highly and expect him to be an important piece moving forward. In order for Douglas to build trust and develop a rapport with quarterback Mac Jones, he needs to be on the field.


Douglas’s presence would have been especially helpful Sunday, given the continued woes of the offensive line. The team welcomed back starting guards Michael Onwenu and Cole Strange, but played without left tackle Trent Brown (concussion). New trade acquisition Vederian Lowe started in Brown’s place, and struggled in pass protection.

When the Patriots cannot efficiently move the ball on the ground or in the air — they averaged just 4.1 yards per play on Sunday and didn’t find the end zone until the fourth quarter — they need to explore all possible options on offense. When Jones needs to get the ball out quick, Douglas can serve as a reliable option out of the slot.

Douglas said Belichick did not speak to him regarding the lack of playing time following the fumble. His teammates offered encouragement both on the sidelines and after the game.

“It’s going to happen,” Jones said. “Young players, there’s going to be mistakes. For him, it’s a learning experience. For all of us.”

Douglas, too, sounded optimistic about the future. The Patriots would be foolish to extend his benching into Week 3.

“This can’t be something that holds me back,” Douglas said. “We still got a lot more season left. When it’s my time, my time.”

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Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her @nicolecyang.