Patriots safety Devin McCourty amped up to erase sting of ugly loss to Chiefs
FOXBORO — Tom Brady wasn’t the only Patriots captain who visibly stewed over the season-opening loss to the Chiefs while the wounds were still fresh.
But of course, when the franchise quarterback calls out his teammates’ attitude, everything else becomes background noise.
Safety Devin McCourty, a seven-time captain, also had a tough time stomaching the performance, particularly the lack of finish in the fourth quarter when the Chiefs ripped off 21 consecutive points to claim a win with minimal resistance on Super Bowl banner night.
McCourty couldn’t fathom how they could give up a two-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that not only iced the game but only yielded a single dose of contact on the Chiefs’ pair of easy runs.
McCourty admitted the feeling was different — maybe even stronger — than other losses because it was opening night, but he found a way to look forward to Week 2 on the late-night drive home. He has always been an esteemed leader, but the 10-day window between the opener and tomorrow’s Saints game presented a different type of opportunity for their core of captains.
“Once I left here, that was it for me,” McCourty said. “I think the opener, you spend a lot of time (preparing) before the game, so I think that had more to do with it. We were preparing for that game, and I know we really lock in the week of the game. Still, the opener is in your vision from the day you start training camp. I think that’s the biggest thing as a team for us, the letdown of not finishing the game, the way we played in the fourth quarter of opening day. I think that was the worst part for us. I think it’s different.
“What we’ve hung our hat on is being able to play 60 minutes, and we didn’t do that.”
McCourty has seen the Patriots come back from far more dire situations than an eight-point deficit with 4:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. So for the defense to rob Brady and the offense of one more chance, that was inexcusable.
Heck, the Patriots pulled off the greatest miracle in NFL history the last time they were in uniform in Super Bowl LI, and McCourty cited their two-touchdown comeback in the final 61 seconds of a 2013 victory against the Browns as another example.
“That wasn’t about X’s and O’s,” McCourty said of the Super Bowl comeback. “That’s just a will to compete for as long as you’re able to compete on that field. That’s something, as leaders, that you talk about, but the biggest thing we can do is go do that. Make sure there is never a play out there that we aren’t competing. I think that trickles down through the team.
“I’ve never been part of a game here where we go and take the field with (4:15) or something left and we’re down eight points, and it’s like, ‘Well, they’re going to run the ball. We know they’re going to run the ball. It’s a four-minute situation.’ And they scored in two plays. That falls under the attitude. For me, it was very disappointing that we didn’t finish the game. We’ve played in games where — Cleveland in ’13, we lost, the game was basically over — and you just play situational football, four-minute, two-minute and somehow special teams gets an onside kick.
“That’s always been the mentality here, and we just didn’t play to that. I thought that was the most disappointing thing, especially from a defensive perspective.”
Belichick relentlessly preached a finishing attitude to the Patriots all week. The message has been delivered in film rooms, during practice, throughout the facility. If he had a chance to go to their homes to tell them to finish their dinners, he’d probably do that, too.
Brady, McCourty and the captains have reinforced the credence of the week. But a couple nice practices don’t mean anything unless they continue through the weekend. Play for Belichick long enough, and it’s not hard to think like him, too. So while it sounds like playing a full 60-minute game should be an easy fix, they don’t take anything for granted in Foxboro.
“Since I’ve been here, I wouldn’t say all our corrections are simple, but we attack them because Bill is going to make sure. Practice isn’t going to just be the same,” McCourty said. “There’s going to be a focus on every single thing we do at practice and hope that carries over to every single thing you do for 60 minutes in a game. He wants to build that mental toughness. That’s what he has harped on all week, building that mental toughness, physical toughness, being able to play 60 minutes. I wouldn’t say it’s easily corrected, but it’s something you can definitely work at that doesn’t take much talent or you need new personnel. It’s not that. It’s just that you have to go out there and work. Everything you do at practice, I think that builds it up.
“That’s what Bill has said as long as I’ve been here. It’s all about stringing them together. It’s not about having a good Wednesday and then, ‘OK, Thursday, OK, good Friday, a decent walkthrough.’ Because that’s how your game is up and down. Since I’ve been here, I’ve always heard him say that. String practices together. If you do that, you start to string games together, and the next thing you know, you’re stringing a good season together.
“For us, it’s that everyday mentality of stringing good days together, and that really encompasses everything that we do.”
The Patriots’ first statement game of the season is much earlier than they ever probably expected, but McCourty offered a glimpse into how the leadership is handling this hurdle.
“I’ve always thought being a leader is being yourself and then understanding within yourself how you can reach guys,” McCourty said. “It’s obviously easy to reach guys who are similar to you, but how you can reach out and get guys who may not be similar, who may be on the other side of the ball. I’ve always taken that as a challenge, and I’m excited for this team. We have a huge challenge in front of us this week, especially defensively. As a captain, you’ve got to take that on and try to go lead your group.”