Rookie wide receiver Demario Douglas was the talk of the New England Patriots training camp. The sixth round pick out of Liberty had everyone’s attention, looking like a potential difference maker from the day he arrived. In Sunday night’s loss to the Dolphins however, Douglas was being talked about in a different way. After a costly fumble in first quarter, Demario Douglas was not seen on offense again.
New England’s gameplay clearly included Douglas in the first quarter. In the six snaps he played, he targeted twice. Douglas caught both passes thrown his way, picking up 19 yards in the process. But on the second reception, Dolphins defender Bradley Chubb tackled Demario Douglas from behind, knocking the ball loose in the process. Miami recovered the fumble.
The Dolphins scored a touchdown on the following possession, increasing their lead to 10-0. Demario Douglas would not see another offensive snap Sunday night.
When asked about Douglas’ benching after the game, Bill Belichick was predictably vague. The Patriots head coach said, “we played all of our skill players.” He added, “can’t play everybody.”
While these statements by Belichick are technically true, he was more candid on his weekly interview with the Greg Hill Show on WEEI the next day. Belichick stated the team works on ball security in practice all the time. “There’s nothing more important than ball security.”
Demario Douglas is far from the first player to wind up in Bill Belichick’s doghouse after a fumble. Some have worked their way out of it. Others have not been so lucky.
From 2012 to 2013, Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was very productive. Over those two seasons, Ridley rushed for 2,036 yards and 19 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also had eight fumbles during that span. As a result, the potential star found himself benched on multiple occasions. By 2014 Ridley hard been largely phased out of New England’s offense. The next season, Stevan Ridley he was gone.
In 2015, Chris Harper felt the full consequences of poor ball security. Due to a plethora of Patriots injuries, the rookie was an emergency option to return punts on Sunday Night Football in Denver. When Harper mishandled a punt in the fourth quarter, the Broncos recovered. Denver scored a touchdown after the turnover, and would go on to win in overtime. The next day, the Patriots waived Chris Harper.
Demario Douglas isn’t even the only current Patriots player to find themselves sitting due to ball security. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson fumbled during his NFL debut in 2021. Not only did Stevenson not see the field again in Week 1, he was inactive for New England’s next three games as well. When he got back in the lineup, Stevenson was both productive and fumble free, not losing another one the rest of his rookie season. The following year, Rhamondre Stevenson emerged as arguably the best offensive player on the Patriots.
To his credit, Douglas said all the right things after the game. He said this will help him as he gets used to the speed of the NFL game, and players coming at him from every direction on every play looking to take the ball away. “Whenever I get back in there, I’m going to make it count.”
Some critics said Demario Douglas staying on the bench Sunday was Bill Belichick being stubborn, and ultimately hurt his team. But Bill Belichick is closing in on 50 seasons as an NFL coach, and things that are most important to him are not going to change; clearly ball security is high on that list, if not at the very top. New England Patriots fans are hoping DeMario Douglas will quickly emerge from the doghouse, showcasing why so many were excited to see him on the field.