FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — James Harrison is headed back to the Super Bowl.
And he says the only thing he’s focused on is winning a third championship.
Everything else is secondary for the 39-year-old Patriots linebacker, who is thriving in his new role with the team that was once his rival.
“That’s the goal. To win the Lombardi (Trophy). There’s only one winner,” Harrison said as he prepared to make his first trip to the Super Bowl since the 2008 season, when he captured his second ring with Pittsburgh.
He’s done talking about his abrupt departure from the Steelers last month and the suggestions from his former teammates that it was Harrison who asked to be released after complaints about playing time.
In a lengthy post on Instagram days after joining the Patriots, Harrison responded directly to his critics, writing: “If anybody thought I signed a two-year deal with a team in the NFL at age 39 to sit on the bench and collect a check and a participation trophy, they’re mistaken. I didn’t sign up to sit on the bench and be a cheerleader.”
What’s not in dispute is that Harrison’s playing time decreased significantly this season with the Steelers.
The Steelers’ sack leader with 80½ in 14 seasons in Pittsburgh, Harrison appeared in just five games and played a total of 38 snaps for them this season. He had only one sack. His five appearances were his fewest since his first season in Pittsburgh in 2002.
After being released on Dec. 23, Harrison signed with New England in time to play in the Patriots’ regular-season finale against the Jets. He had three tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in his debut.
In one regular season and two playoffs games with the Patriots, he’s already been on the field for 89 snaps.
“I’m doing whatever they ask me to do,” Harrison said. “I’m getting more snaps than I had (in Pittsburgh), and I like that.”
As to whether he has something to prove at this point in his career, he said that has always been his mindset.
“Anything people say I can’t do, I want to prove them wrong,” Harrison said.
He says it would be impossible for him to feel truly acclimated after just three games, but he has an appreciation for the way the Patriots approach things.
Safety Devin McCourty said Harrison’s work ethic has been noticeable.
“I think younger guys, a lot of younger guys on the team compared to him, can learn from him,” McCourty said. “I think we all saw that from Day 1 when he came in here bright and early getting whatever he needs done.”
Coach Bill Belichick praised Harrison’s ability to handle the different things they’ve asked of him.
“This guy is a professional. He’s into football. He’s into his job and wants to do it well,” Belichick said. “I, 100 percent totally respect that. That’s what you want from everybody.”
Harrison started at outside linebacker in the AFC title game against Jacksonville and is in line to start again alongside Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts against the Eagles.
Whatever happens, Harrison is secure in the decisions he’s made.
“It feels good, but like I’ve said before, this is all God’s plan,” he said. “This is all his doing. I’m just reaping the benefits of it right now.”
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