Summer 2024

Patriots defensive end Derek Rivers earns praise for perseverance, 1st sack in two years

The biggest story coming out of New England’s 21-11 win on Sunday over the Miami Dolphins was their new quarterback. Cam Newton started his first game for the Patriots, rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns, and also added 155 yards passing. Those are the most rushing yards by a Patriots QB under head coach Bill Belichick, who of course had guided Tom Brady for the past 20 years.

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But the Patriots defense was also stellar. It held the Dolphins to only 269 yards, and forced quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick into three interceptions.

Yet, one of the best stories came about in the fourth quarter, when Fitzpatrick was sacked for the only time in the game. It came at the hands of defensive end Derek Rivers, just his second career sack. His first sack occurred nearly two years ago against the New York Jets on Dec. 30, 2018.

The time in between those sacks indicates the challenging times Rivers has faced. A third-round pick out of Youngstown State by the Pats in 2017, he tore his ACL during his first training camp and missed his entire rookie season. He was back by Week 3 of the 2018 season, but only played six games. Then last year, Rivers injured his right knee in a preseason game, ultimately needed surgery and was placed on injured reserve.

He’s now healthy and trying to earn playing time. Coach Belichick has noticed.

“Derek’s really done an incredible job with some of the adversity he’s been through. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen him in a down day. He’s always got a positive attitude. He’s worked extremely hard,” Belichick in his Monday morning press conference. “He always works on the things that will help him and help the team. First one in, last one out of the building. Really glad to see him out there yesterday and have an opportunity to play and have some success and help us win. He’s really showed a lot of mental toughness, really an incredible amount of mental toughness over the last three years to deal with some of the setbacks that he’s had, none of which were really his fault. Just bad breaks really. I don’t think he did anything wrong. That’s football.

“He’s never been anything but a positive, hard-working competitive attitude. He did what he could do. He’s had a good camp here and a good start to the season. For him to have the opportunity to play yesterday and helping the team win was very gratifying I know for him, but for all of us, all of his teammates and other people on the team, the training staff, the strength staff who have worked with him during that time as well to help him regain all of his physical attributes… it came to fruition yesterday and it’s gratifying for everyone.”

Rivers showed the perspective through which he sees his life when he discussed his recovery from the ACL tear two years ago.

“It’s a blessing to be able to come out here and have this opportunity. Praise God. My knee and everything feels awesome,” he said in May 2018, adding, “There’s a reason for everything, so I knew that time wasn’t my time, and it’s all in (God’s) plan.”

Rivers hopes more plays like the one he had Sunday are in his future. Regardless, he trusts God.

“I’m a sinner saved by the grace of our lord Jesus Christ,” Rivers says on Instagram.

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