By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — James Harrison was released by the Steelers on Christmas weekend, signed with the Patriots shortly thereafter, and heard from past teammates who ripped him for begging off the team. While learning a new defensive system, he released a statement addressing his intentions.
From the outside, it appears to have been a tumultuous week for James Harrison.
But after the veteran linebacker made his Patriots debut on Sunday in a 26-6 win over the Jets, he was rather calm when discussing what it was like playing for the primary rival of his former team.
“It felt good. I mean, it’s just like any other team,” he said. “That’s like you going to a different news channel or a different newspaper. It’s no different than that.”
As for the performance, Harrison was better than could have been expected. He made a third-down tackle while in coverage to force a Jets punt, and he ended the game with consecutive sacks on quarterback Bryce Petty — the first of which also included a forced fumble.
After the Steelers gave Harrison almost no playing time all year long, Harrison was asked if such a performance was a statement.
“Nah, this is not me. Like I told you before, this is God’s plan,” he said. “This is God’s doings. I’m just the receiver of what he has planned. I’m 39 years old and I’m still playing football, so I’m extremely blessed.”
That being said, Harrison was not entirely displaying a Zen-like approach to his business. He said he enjoys proving people wrong.
“I don’t really listen for what people say I can do; I listen for what people say I can’t do,” he said. “I want to prove people wrong. I want to show that I’m able to still do it. I may not be able to do it like I used to, but I want to prove that I’m still able to do it to [the point] where I should still be out there.”
Harrison was apparently quite pleased with the debut, as he quickly shared a graphic on Instagram highlighting his performance.
Harrison’s first Sunday as a Patriot, though, did not start out so smoothly. He was seen standing by himself during the national anthem, while the rest of his new teammates stood together on the sideline.
Harrison explained after the game that it was just a miscommunication.
“I did not know what was going on,” he said. “I was not cued. They did not tell me about that. … That’s where I usually stand. That’s where I’ve been standing for, I don’t know, 15, 16 years.”
When Harrison made his third-down stop on Robby Anderson, he was quickly greeted by Elandon Roberts and then Devin McCourty in celebration.
Harrison said he appreciated the welcome.
“It’s teammates — I’m on a new team. That’s the building of the brotherhood, the building of togetherness,” Harrison said.
While Harrison said he’s not yet acclimated to the Patriots and their playbook, head coach Bill Belichick praised Harrison’s work ethic that was on display all week.
“James worked really hard. Worked really hard to get things down and to handle the roles that he was in today. Very professional. He has a lot of experience but not in this system, so he had to do a lot of things to try to acclimate himself to what we do, and terminology, and adjustments and so forth. He really worked hard on that. He got better every day, and you could see that through the course of the week. Sometimes it piles up and the load just becomes … there’s a diminishing return effect. In his case I would say that wasn’t the case. Each day, it got better.”
By no means does anyone with the Patriots expect Harrison to single-handedly dominate a postseason game and lead the Patriots to a title. But if he can contribute much the same as he did on Sunday as the Patriots move forward, he could provide exactly what the Patriots hoped for when they signed him.