More ups and downs for McCourty

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More ups and downs for McCourty

FOXBORO, MA -- Devin McCourty must have asked Santa for an interception this Christmas.

The cornerback picked off Matt Moore in the fourth quarter of New England's 27-24 win. It was an important play: the score was tied at 17 and Miami was driving into Patriots territory. Moore, who successfully hung up 294 yards on the opposing secondary, looked downfield to where Brian Hartline was streaking toward the end zone.

The ball went up...

It came down with McCourty at the New England 2.

"Felt pretty good," he smiled after the game. "Finally got a chance to get one and reel it in. It was a big play, helped the team out big time."

His use of "finally" is appropriate. It's taken McCourty 16 weeks -- 13 games because of the separated shoulder -- to nab a pick after tallying seven in his 2010 Pro Bowl season. The sophomore slump is old news by now, so much so that the inconsistencies are one of the most consistent aspects of his play.

But also unfailing? His attitude. A good one.

Despite the cloud of negatives overshadowing each individual positive, McCourty has remained accountable. He has spoken to the media on behalf of the secondary after every loss. He's answered every question about surrendered yardage and pass interference penalties (this week it was on third-and-12). Not once has McCourty shown frustration or impatience.

He views the season as a fight that's far from over.

"That's the life of playing corner," he shrugged. "You make a play and then they come right back and make a play. I think you just keep battling. In the secondary you're always going to go against that.

"When you play this position you kind of tell yourself that your whole career. Today wasn't the first day I got beat in my career and it won't be the last. You've just got to keep playing."

Fans and media alike are quick to heap criticism on McCourty for the drop-off. He knows he deserves it; a guy can't rival Ndamukong Suh for defensive rookie of the year then return as a defensive liability the next season.

Unfortunately, that's what he now resembles. For each person who mentions McCourty's interception there will be 10 clamoring to list each of Miami's big gains. Like the fourth quarter 41-yard bomb Moore delivered to Brandon Marshall on third-and-10. That play was more than half the distance of the entire drive, which ended in a touchdown and brought the Dolphins within three points.

Marshall finished with 156 yards and a touchdown -- the bulk of his damage done on McCourty's side.

So it goes.

The reality is, McCourty's rookie campaign was good enough to give him a long leash. It's likely the Patriots' biggest worry is preserving his nucleus of confidence, and that means riding out the waves. How does McCourty handle it all? He's buoyed by teammates.

After coming down with the interception McCourty scrambled to his feet and high-stepped to the sideline, ball tucked under his right arm. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich was there around the 20. The pair met with a thunderous bump in mid-air.

Ninkovich recalled the celebration with a smile. The relief wasn't just McCourty's.

"As a defense we all lean on each other. An NFL season is tough... you've got a lot of ups and downs. You've got to have that team camaraderie, everybody around you staying positive."

It hasn't been easy. But as McCourty will tell you, that's not why you fight.

Belichick: Players don’t have time to be coaching each other

Belichick: Players don’t have time to be coaching each other

FOXBORO - It's been an ongoing conversation/fascination this summer. With Tom Brady's four-game suspension looming, how much knowledge, support and coaching was he going to give to Jimmy Garoppolo?

Bill Belichick was asked by Phil Perry on Thursday how much he expects from veteran players when it comes to coaching up teammates. 

The answer? Be an example, but let the coaches coach. 

"I think veteran players can be a good example for younger players in terms of their preparation, and their attitude, and their work ethic, and the way they go about things," said Belichick. "We have a lot of guys that I would put in that category that when you watch them do things they do them right and it’s easy to say to a younger player ‘Do what that guy does’, and you’d be off to a good start. 

"But you know, that being said, I think everybody on the team, really their number one focus is to get ready to play football. Our players aren’t coaches, they’re players, and they need to get ready to play, and as I said, I think every player needs to get ready to play. I don’t care how long you’ve been in the league, I don’t care what positon you play, I don’t care how long you’ve coached, I don’t care what position you coach. We haven’t done it for a long time, a number of months, and now we all need to sharpen those skills up. That’s every player, that’s every coach, so I don’t really think players have a lot of time to run around and be telling everybody else what to do."

The answer is not surprising. As much as the "Do Your Job" mantra is espoused in New England, to think Belichick or his mostly veteran staff of coaches would want players monkeying with the message is a little naive. Certainly, there are things players can impart to teammates who play the same position. Things coaches might not see from the sidelines or from upstairs. And Belichick's made a point of saying that in the past: there are things players on the field know and have experienced that the coaches may not be able to articulate as clearly. Junior Seau was a resource and touchstone for defensive teammates during his time in New England. 

But there's a difference between giving helpful pointers when they are sought or being a locker room sage and coaching. 

"Honestly, there is enough that all of them need to work on individually, and that would be every single player, that’s a full plate for them," added Belichick. "I don’t really think that’s their job, and I don’t think any player has enough time to do that because they all have things that they need to do to prepare for the season. But as far as being a good example and doing things right and all of that, I mean we have a lot of guys that fall into that category and that’s definitely a good thing. But, you know, that’s what they should be doing."

For two seasons and three offseasons, Garoppolo's had a chance to observe how Brady prepares, studies, interacts and leads. No doubt they've had countless conversations about the Patriots offensive philosophy and the throws and checks that need to be made in certain situations. But the job of actually coaching Garoppolo falls to Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. 

Any successes of failures Garoppolo has during the four weeks Brady is off campus will belong to him and his coaches. And that's how it should be. 

 

Slater signs one-year contract extension with Patriots

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Slater signs one-year contract extension with Patriots

The Patriots have their special-teams captain locked up through 2017.

Matthew Slater and the team have come to terms on a one-year contract extension that will keep him in New England for the next two seasons. He's due base salaries of $1 million and $900,000 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Slater was made a fifth-round draft pick by the Patriots back in 2008, and since then he has established himself as one of the top soecial teams players in the NFL, making each of the last five Pro Bowls. He's also been a durable player, seeing action in all but nine games over the course of his eight-year career. 

The Patriots have a handful of young and talented special teams players on their roster, including Nate Ebner and Brandon King, but during training camp practices Slater continued to show his prowess when it comes to tracking down kick and punt returners. He's also taken on a well-defined leadership role in the Patriots locker room -- he's been a captain each year since 2011 -- and he serves as the team's NFLPA player representative. 

Curran: Tom Brady/Jimmy Garoppolo relationship isn't the same as Brady/Bledsoe

Curran: Tom Brady/Jimmy Garoppolo relationship isn't the same as Brady/Bledsoe

Tom E. Curran joins SNC to discuss Tom Brady issuing his support for Jimmy Garoppolo prior to the start of practice, and whether Brady sees his relationship with Jimmy the same as when he was the understudy of Bledsoe.