FOXBORO - Had the Patriots lost to the New York Jets on Sunday, there's no doubt that Devin McCourty would have been criticized more for his fourth-quarter fumble, than he would have for his first-quarter touchdown.
It was quite a day for the Patriots cornerback, who played the entire game at safety.
In the opening minutes of the first quarter, McCourty answered a Jets 76-yard touchdown drive with a 104-yard kickoff return that tied the score at 7.
Still, after the Jets tied it at 23 with a little more than two minutes left in the game, McCourty fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and New York recovered, leading to another Jets field goal and a Jets 26-23 lead with 1:37 left to play.
New England's offense answered with a strong drive which led to a tying field goal of their own, sending the game to overtime, where the Patriots eventually won, 29-26.
"My teammates saved my life today," said McCourty. "I made a bad mistake in the fourth quarter. I've just got to do a better job holding onto the ball. Today was like a total team win. We just kept fighting Things didn't go our way the whole game. Today we made enough plays when we needed to, to get the win."
McCourty's early touchdown marked the first kickoff he returned for a score since his senior year of college at Rutgers. And it was just how you'd draw it up.
"It was kind of, I think, what a special teams coach would love to see," said McCourty. "I ran the ball, made one cut, and everyone else got blocked, except for the kicker. So, when your kickoff return team does that, and blocks everyone except for one guy, as a returner, you have to score right there.
"All our returners, we know if we get up to the kicker, we've got to beat him."
McCourty beat him, but it was old news once he fumbled on the kickoff in the final minutes of the game.
"The fourth quarter is so important," said McCourty. "My goal is to try to play mistake-free in the fourth quarter. That's a big one. It's not defensively, but it's something I really work on. I'm a big part of that kickoff return team. I think my teammates just did a great job, because on that touchdown, no one touched me. I just have to work on my responsibility, and that's holding onto the ball."
As he said, McCourty's teammates saved him. And more specifically, Rob Ninkovich saved him, sealing the deal on New England's win with a sack and a fumble recovery in overtime.
Because of the win, the Patriots won't focus on McCourty's fumble. They'll thank him for the early touchdown instead.
"It's tough, but I think that Dev's a great player for us," said Ninkovich. "And it's just a tough spot for him, obviously, because I know how much of a competitor Dev is. And we were alright. We bounced back from it. We had a touchdown that we wouldn't have had, if it wasn't for him."