James Conner has done a lot of good things since the start of the previous season (he didn’t get many opportunities as a rookie playing behind Le’Veon Bell). Unfortunately, some of those things have been overshadowed by notable fumbles that he has had over the course of his past 16 games played, starting in Cleveland in the 2018 opener.
The latest of three career fumbles came on Sunday, and it proved to be costly again. With a little over five minutes to play in the game, the Pittsburgh Steelers holding onto a 20-17 lead and having just recovered fumble themselves, with the San Francisco 49ers in a goal-to-go situation, they were looking to kill the clock.
It looked to be working. Conner picked up five yards on the ground on first down. He got five more on a reception one play later. On the next snap, as he looked to swing wide to the right, the 49ers defense got penetration and looked to bring him down for a loss. As he reached ahead to try to get back to the line of scrimmage, they jarred the ball loose, and suddenly it was a new game. A game they lost.
Conner spoke about that on his radio show yesterday on The Fan. “It’s never going to be perfect”, he said. “I know it’s my job. Going onto the field, I knew the situation. Five minutes left in the fourth quarter. I had two hands on it. The defensive player just made a great play. He actually grabbed my arm and part of the ball and got a good pull at it. I had two hands on it, so I just understand that fumbles happen. I know that. I can’t let it happen no more, but it’s never going to be perfect”.
Conner finished Sunday’s game with 13 carries for 43 yards, plus four receptions for another 14 yards, and the unfortunate fumble. On the season, he has 97 rushing yards on 34 attempts for a 2.9-yard average and one touchdown, in addition to 11 receptions for 70 yards.
The numbers don’t tell the full story, of course, and we’ll get more into that as the week progresses. A successful running play is valuable regardless of its impact on efficiency numbers. A one-yard run on third and one will always be better than a six-yard run on second and 12.
Ball security, however, is paramount, and it goes without saying that Conner can’t let that happen again. He did say as much himself. But with a backup quarterback starting for the rest of the year, holding onto the ball is the first priority for everybody on offense.