The New England Patriots emerge from their bye week to confront the best running back in the NFL.

After a long weekend, the Patriots returned to work Monday morning with a clear focus for their defensive staff: stop Colts running back Jonathan Taylor.

The Colts are coming off a own bye of their own, and Taylor leads the NFL with 1,348 rushing yards and a league-best 16 rushing touchdowns. He’s ripped off 10 runs of 20 yards or more behind one of the NFL’s best offensive line. Taylor has even thrust himself into the MVP conversation.

Meanwhile, the Patriots’ run defense ranks 19th in the league, allowing 4.4 yards per carry. Ultimately, the front seven will need to be at its best Saturday night in Indianapolis, facing their toughest test of the season.

“I think with a running back like Taylor – and (Nyheim) Hines is a different type of runner, but he’s also very good – everybody has to understand the ball can go anywhere,” Pats Coach Bill Belichick said. “It might be designed to go into a certain hole, but that doesn’t really mean anything. Those guys will take it wherever there’s an opening, wherever there’s space.

“Everybody has to be in their gap, be in their area of responsibility or we’re looking at giving up a big play. Taylor is really fast. He’s had a lot of long runs. Literally, they can score from anywhere on the field.”


PATRIOTS RUNNING back Damien Harris is not a sure thing for Saturday’s game.

Ivan Fears doesn’t know if Harris will be back when New England plays in Indianapolis.

But the Patriots’ running backs coach does know if there’s a chance, Harris will find it.

Against the Buffalo Bills and a howling wind, the Patriots rushed the ball 46 times on 49 offensive plays in their 14-10 win on Dec. 6. Harris had 10 carries for 111 yards and was a first-half workhorse. But he left the game with a hamstring injury. He worked furiously on the sideline coming out of halftime trying to stretch it enough that he could return to action.

It worked for one play, a 22-yard run, but then exited again and didn’t come back. His status is unclear Saturday.

“I can tell you this about Damien. If there’s any way to find a way to get on the field, that’s what he’s going to do,” Fears said. “He’s working hard.”


Fears said Harris chose to stay around rather than leave during the bye week in hopes of taking advantage of New England’s medical staff and equipment in hopes of getting healthy.

“He’s been here all weekend. He’s taken full advantage of our bye week to get himself as much as possible ready for practice. We’re going to give him as much time as we can to see if he can make it,” Fears said. “He’s working hard. I’ve seen him in here on Saturday. I’ve seen him in here on Friday. I’m really excited about his opportunity and his chances. But you’ll never really know until he starts putting his grind on practice.”

Harris is 12th in the NFL in rushing yards with 754 on 164 carries and has nine touchdowns. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson would likely take over the bulk of the carries if Harris is unavailable.

BELICHICK DIDN’T say if he’s been watching it himself, but somebody on the Patriots’ staff is monitoring HBO’s current season of “Hard Knocks” in case there’s useful information.

“Hard Knocks” is HBO’s signature behind-the-scenes NFL docuseries that had been, until now, a show from and about training camp. But the current version is an in-season edition featuring the Indianapolis Colts, who the Patriots face on Saturday. The Dallas Cowboys, who were the preseason subject of “Hard Knocks” in 2021, were also on New England’s schedule this year.

“We track most everything any team that we play does. Depending on the relevance or importance of that information, at some point, it gets relayed down the line,” Belichick said. “We have somebody that studies each team. Any relevant comments or information that we think is relevant to the preparation, that could be shared, sure.”


In 2012, J.J. Watt, – then with the Texans – said he picked up the Miami Dolphins’ snap count from watching “Hard Knocks” and then had 1.5 sacks against them in a 30-10 Houston win.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Kliff Kingsbury thinks the coach of the year trophy should be named after Bill Belichick. The Patriots’ coach thinks that trophy, which is presented by the Associated Press, should go to Kingsbury this year.

“They should just name the award Bill Belichick and when he retires, bring that back,” Kingsbury said last week. “Until he retires, I don’t think anyone else should get that award. He should be that every single year he is coaching.”

Asked about Kingsbury’s comments, Belichick responded in kind.

“Very nice of Kliff to toss that bouquet and I’ll toss it right back,” he said. “Kliff has done a great job. I think he’s done a great job and should be the Coach of the Year this year.”

Kingsbury, who was briefly a reserve quarterback for the Patriots in 2003 says he learned a lot from Belichick that still influences his coaching.

“We have different demeanors, but he was so detailed at everything he did,” Kingsbury said. “There was no stone unturned. You felt prepared and you felt like you had everything covered going into a game. I want to try and give our players that type of mindset. I fall very short of what Bill Belichick does in that regard but we try to really emphasize situational football, make sure we’ve rehearsed it and our guys feel comfortable if that situation arrives.”

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