Curran: Forget the refs, this loss is on McCourty

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Curran: Forget the refs, this loss is on McCourty

BALTIMORE Bruce Hermansen, Ali Shetula, Rodney Russell, Esteban Garza, Mike Riley, Jeff Sadorus, Mark Wetzel and Mark Burns. Those were the officials for Sunday nights Baltimore debacle.

Theres a lot of justifiable moaning over the horrific job they did during the Ravens 31-30 win over the Patriots.

But not one of them are to blame for the Patriots being 1-2 on this Monday morning.

None of them were trying in vain to cover Jacoby Jones on a 24-yard completion up the sideline from Joe Flacco with 1:55 left in the game.

None of them were beaten badly off the line by Jones on a third-and-9 play from the Patriots 34 with 52 seconds left beaten so badly they had to tackle Jones and draw a pass interference that set up the game-winning field goal.

None of them dropped an interception in the first half. None of them dropped an interception in the second half.

None of them got hurdled by Dennis Pitta en route to a 20-yard touchdown late in the first half.

Who did all that? Devin McCourty. Usually you have to order a six-pack of goat horns after a loss because in an NFL game theres a lot of blame to be spread around and theres rarely one culprit. Not this time.

McCourty imploded Sunday night on national television. He was the weak link that Flacco and the Ravens attacked in the Patriots secondary time after time after time. Not undrafted Kyle Arrington. Not undrafted Sterling Moore. Both of those guys let up plays. So did many others. But McCourty gave up the win.

Think of it this way. The Patriots were up 2-0 with 115 seconds left. They had to prevent Baltimore from getting three points. In order for the Ravens to have a reasonable chance to get three, they needed to gain 49 yards. On the first play of the drive, Flacco threw 24 yards over McCourtys head to get the ball to the Ravens 45.

When they needed another play on that third-and-9 I mentioned to avoid a 51-yard attempt, they went at McCourty again and Jones beat him even worse than he had on the first play.

Thats 51 yards on Devin McCourty in a crunch time drive when the Patriots offense put up 30 points on the road against a team that plays pretty good defense.

And thats the ballgame.

We were all puzzled last year when McCourty went from very good as a rookie to one of the worst starting corners in the league. Had to be the scheme. Had to be the things the coaches were asking him to do. Had to be an injury. Had to be his confidence.

This season, in camp and in the first two games, he looked closer to the form he showed as a rookie. All fixed? Not exactly. As the game wore on Sunday night and Joe Flacco heated up, McCourty became his target. Trying to play a trail technique in which he gave receivers a free release from the line of scrimmage and let them get downfield ahead of him, McCourty showed the same inability to close on the ball in the air that he did in 2011. Not only was he unable to close, his fundamentals went to hell as well. He wasnt just out of position on some deep throws, he was flailing (he was also beaten by Smith on another long completion in the first half that Smith dropped as he hit the ground out of bounds).

The dropped pick in the first half wasnt an easy play but it wouldnt have been spectacular if hed made it either. The second dropped pick could have been hauled in by an average high school player.

McCourty works hard. Hes good on special teams. Hes seen as a leader. Hes a stand-up guy after losses. But the evidence over the past year is indisputable. He cant cover very well.

McCourtys postgame mantra Sunday was the same as it was last year when he allowed (according to the website Pro Football Focus) 62 catches for 1,004 yards the second highest total of yards allowed in the league by the sites reckoning.

I just gotta make plays, said McCourty. There were more plays out there, not just the last drive, but there were plays that I can make and my teammates count on me to make and I simply have to make those plays.

I asked McCourty why he doesnt make those plays.

I wish I knew, he said. If I knew I woulda made em. I gotta work on em, I gotta get better. Close on a lot of plays and just gotta get it done.

McCourty seemed offended when I asked if it was a lack of confidence.

Nahhhh. I just gotta make plays. Its not a confidence thing. Why would it be a confidence thing? he asked. I had two balls in my hands, I gotta make those plays, its not a confidence thing. I gotta make plays. Its the National Football League. You go out there with no confidence, youll see a worse display than what I put out there. You just gotta make the plays. Its simple.

Gotta make plays. Gotta work harder. Theres only so long you can hear that pap, nod and presume McCourty will figure it out.

No player has gotten a wider berth and easier ride while being staggeringly ineffective than McCourty. Hes playing like Kato Serwanga and getting treated like Ty Law.

Cornerbacks get beat sometimes, thats a fact. Its an extremely difficult position. Arrington let up a touchdown as well to Smith on a deep ball from Flacco. It happens.

But the all-too frequent toastings McCourty receives have grown old. As has the gotta get better, gotta work harder mantra.

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions (Curran is sitting this one out) on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag.

MG: Q leading off my portion of the always popular, always exciting, always (occasionally?) informative #FridayBag. I think it would be easy to think that way from the outside looking in, or knowing how callous some organizations can be, but I just don’t believe that to be the case here. Players talk. Agents talk. Hell, coaches talk. If the Pats were to operate that way, it would get around the league in a heartbeat. Then why would someone want to play here knowing they’ll be treated even more like a disposable commodity then normal? The flip side to this is actually protecting the player from himself. Guys in the last year of a deal sometimes feel compelled to play through every damn thing so they can at least say “look at me, I’m a warrior!” And on that note, I’d sit Marty Bennett next week in Denver and probably the following week against the Jets if that will help the ankle and whatever else is ailing him heal to the point where he’s a hell of a lot more effective than what we just saw versus the Rams (He was awful). Bennett’s too valuable going forward. 

MG: Lisa, my understanding is teams nominate their player and then it goes to a panel (one that includes the NFL Commish) to decide who wins for the league (It was Anquan Boldin in 2015). Can’t quibble with Rob Gronkowski being the team’s nominee this year. People have no idea how much he does for the community. Heck, we don’t even know the extent of it, but the great Don Rodman of Rodman Car Dealer fame and one of the most incredibly charitable individuals to ever grace this area said that there are few if any athletes who devote more time and effort to charitable works/foundations. I hope he wins. It would mean a lot to Gronk.

MG: You never figured you’d have to worry about the offense, did you Steve? But the season-ending injury to Gronk and now the injury to Danny Amendola does concern me. Both of those guys are incredibly reliable 3rd down targets, and in Gronk’s case, he’s usually the first or second option on 3rd down. Bennett hasn’t been able to pick up the slack because he’s clearly not healthy either. That means the Pats and Josh McDaniels will be going through a trial and error period here to best determine how to improve that number and become more efficient. I suspect more will fall on Julian Edelman, but also look for the continued evolution of the two back set with James White and Dion Lewis.

MG: Ambrose, the Pats have remained incredibly committed to the run because they don’t want to find themselves in the same spot they were a year ago, when the run game was so pathetic that neither Miami in the regular season finale nor Denver in the AFC title game paid it one mind. That means rushers pinning their ears back and smashing into Tom Brady at rates no one is comfortable with. So while I won’t be surprise if Brady throws it 45 times, I don’t think they shelve the ground game, at least in the first half. 

MG: Ok Bunk, I stole a comment of yours for the mailbag. Trying to make you famous…yes, I stand by my tweet in which I stated the Ravens and Broncos are bigger threats than the Chiefs or Raiders. Oakland’s defense would give up 40 to Brady. 45 if the Pats needed it. Or 50. I’m dead serious. As for the Chiefs, Alex Smith is not coming into Foxboro and beating this team, even with some of it’s defensive issues. And Belichick will make damn sure that rookie Hill doesn’t get many cracks at touching the football in the return game. Oh, and now the Chiefs best linebacker, Johnson, is out for the year with an Achilles. Should I continue???

MG: History tells us no, David. Brady would throw a fit and argue that he needs to play to remain sharp or iron out this problem or that problem. There’s also the possibility of a bye week looming, meaning he’d go 3 weeks without actually playing in a game. Seems like a good idea in the sense that you don’t risk a 39-year old to a blindside shot, but neither he nor Belichick would ever go for it.

PP: The running back position might be the toughest to project moving forward because there are so many injuries there and there are so many backs who come from nowhere to earn significant roles. I'll say this though: The backs they have on the roster -- not including Brandon Bolden, who has turned into strictly a special teamer after having a difficult time holding onto the football this year -- don't seem to be slowing down. LeGarrette Blount just turned 30 but is in the middle of his best season. Dion Lewis looks strong after two surgeries. James White has taken his game to a new level in his third season. I could see the same group coming back next season, but given the volatility of the position, you know the Patriots will always be scouring for talent there. 

PP: Tom E. touched on this yesterday, Big Wally. Brandon Pettigrew, who was released by the Lions on Friday, might make sense. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot out there. Zach Sudfeld? He's available. Would be an unlikely reunion, but desperate times . . . I think the Patriots will continue to roll out Martellus Bennett at less than 100 percent. I think Matt Lengel could see more work as a blocking tight end as he becomes more familiar with the system. I think we'll see more Cameron Fleming, and we could see more two-back sets with no tight ends. In my opinion, Bennett could use a rest, but I don't think it's coming any time soon. As far as Sarge's question about the hurry-up, I'm not sure we'll start to see more that. It's possible, but one of the benefits with the hurry-up is to keep a defense from substituting to shift matchups in its favor. With Gronkowski or Bennett on the field in a hurry-up situation would have even further highlighted the matchup issues they present. If either one found himself with a slow linebacker on him, the Patriots could have rushed to the line and continued...to exploit...that matchup. Without Gronkowski and without Bennett at full strength, the advantage of the no-huddle is somewhat sapped.  

PP: It's so late into the season, I'm not sure there's much in the way of opportunity for a breakout game this week, Paul. I guess the obvious choice would be Griff Whalen. If he can give the Patriots a pair of sure hands as a punt-returner, that would be a significant enough add that I might qualify it as a "breakout." Bill Belichick made it clear this morning that the team views him as more than just a returner, though, so he could see some offensive snaps in four-receiver sets and provide the Patriots with a presence in the slot. I'd deem a four-catch, 50-yard performance as a "breakout" as well. To me, that's the range of his ceiling for this week. One other name as a potential "breakout" candidate? Justin Coleman. He could be used defensively after being inactive for the last three weeks due to Eric Rowe's hamstring injury. If he's able to help slow down the combination of Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith, that'd be a breakout in my book. 

PP: The combined record of opponents they've beaten is actually 26-57-1, including the Browns 0-12 mark twice, but now it's out there. 'Preciate you, Dave!

PP:  There's still so much up for grabs in the AFC West that it's hard to determine the likelihood of Patriots playoff matchups and where those games will be. However, without getting into the nitty gritty details, I'll just point out that it's still possible that the Patriots end up on the road in either of these cities in the postseason. On the road, Denver is the tougher matchup. Always has been a brutal place for the Patriots to play, and Denver's defense is still good enough to cause them problems. At home? I'd say, of these two teams, Kansas City would be the one that would provide the Patriots with a slightly tougher test. In my mind, they're a little more balanced and I have more faith in Alex Smith to make plays than I do Trevor Siemien.

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's practice participation/injury report for Monday night's Patriots-Ravens game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder)
DB Jordan Richards (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring)
DB Eric Rowe (hamstring)
WR/SpT Matthew Slater (foot)

BALTIMORE RAVENS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
TE Crockett Gilmore (thigh)
LB Terrell Suggs (not injury related)
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
C Jeremy Zuttah (not injury related)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
G Alex Lewis (ankle)

FULL PARTICIPATION
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)