More ups and downs for McCourty

621680.jpg

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.

Report: Belichick may be called to testify in Hernandez trial

Report: Belichick may be called to testify in Hernandez trial

Bill Belichick, identified as "William Belichick," has been added to the list of potential defense witnesses who could testify during the upcoming double-homicide trial of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, according to the Boston Herald.

Per the Herald, the new list of potential witnesses for the defense also includes Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who was Hernandez's teammate at the University of Florida. 

Belichick, McDaniels and Pouncey aren't guaranteed to testify, but their presence on the civilian witness list makes their presence in court a possibility. 

Hernandez's trial is scheduled to start next Wednesday. He's accused of killing Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Furtado back in July of 2012. Hernandez is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of the murder Odin Lloyd in 2013.

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Personally, I would buy a crapload of stock in Cyrus Jones. In part because – after his nightmarish rookie season – stock can be bought on the cheap. But also because he’s too talented, too committed and too smart to suck like he did in 2016 when he handled punts like they were coated in uranium and never made a big contribution in the secondary.

(Listen above to hear Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discuss Cyrus Jones on the Quick Slants podcast.)

Because of his disappointing year, Jones is an overlooked player on the Patriots roster, but he’s in a pivotal spot. With Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon approaching free agency, Malcolm Butler’s contract expiring after 2017, Pat Chung on the edge of 30 and a free agent after 2018 and the other corners being Justin Coleman, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones is going to get his shot.

The reason I included safeties Harmon and Chung in the discussion is that when the Patriots go to six DBs, roles are less stringently defined. And because of Jones’ size (5-10, 200), powerful build and short-area quickness, he can be the kind of versatile player who covers inside against quicker slot receivers as well as being on the outside if necessary. Kind of like Chung can cover on the back end or drop down to cover tight ends.

The Patriots are confident that Jones will get it right. His teammates in the secondary are unanimous in saying he’s got all the talent he needs.  

PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:

But as 2016 wore on, it was apparent that Jones was miserable and let his failures consume him. Jones muffed or fumbled five kicks in the 2016 season.
 
By the time the Patriots played the Ravens on a Monday night in December, he was so inside his own head that he stalked a bouncing punt he had no business being near (for the second time that game) and had it bounce off his foot setting up a Ravens touchdown. That night, Jones exited the Patriots locker room and made his way to the players parking lot before the field was even clear of equipment.

Jones either expected things to come as easily in the NFL as they did at Alabama and wasn’t prepared to deal with adversity. Or the mistakes he made caused him to wonder if he really was good enough to play in the league.

Either way, Cyrus Jones was all about Cyrus Jones in 2016. And his comments to the Baltimore Sun over the weekend were evidence that the world he’s concerned with ends at the end of his nose. 

"I honestly felt cursed," he said. "I reached a point where I didn't even want to play. I just didn't have it...What I did this year was not me," he said. "I don't care how anybody tries to sugarcoat it. Yes, I was a rookie. But I feel I should always be one of the best players on the field, no matter where I am.
 
"But honestly, it was hell for me," he said. "That's the only way I can describe it. I didn't feel I deserved to be part of anything that was happening with the team. I felt embarrassed that these people probably thought they wasted a pick on me."

The first thing Jones needs to do this offseason is get over himself. He can look one locker down and talk to Devin McCourty about getting crushed for shaky play in 2012, battling through it and then turning into a Pro Bowl-level safety. He can talk to fellow Alabama product Dont'a Hightower about Hightower’s being benched in the 2013 season against the Broncos and labeled a bust before flipping his season around and being the team’s best defender by the end of that year.

But he’s going to have to figure it out. Draft status means nothing to New England and, as it now stands, undrafted corner Jonathan Jones out of Auburn has more demonstrated value to the team that Cyrus Jones does. In two months, the Patriots are damn sure going to add more secondary players.

This offseason, Jones needs to check his ego, simplify his game and simply ban outside perceptions from fans, media or coaches from infect his on-field decision-making.

His conversation with the Sun didn’t really indicate he’s ready to do that. Asked about criticism, Jones said, “It pisses me off. You can say shut it out or don't listen, but I know people are talking, and it's negative. I'm not a dumb guy. It definitely affects me. What it should do is piss me off in a way that I want to shut them all up."

From the limited number of times I spoke with him and from his teammates regard for him, I can confirm Jones isn’t a dumb guy. That doesn’t necessarily make life easier though. In 2016, Cyrus Jones’ brain got in the way. The Patriots need him to shut that thing off in 2017.