FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When the New England Patriots posted a video on their website from inside their locker room following Thursday’s victory over the Indianapolis Colts, veteran cornerback Jason McCourty’s reaction was the showstopper.
“Yeah, I’m excited! I did a lot of losing last year! That’s what I’m talking about!” McCourty exclaimed as he had a little extra giddy-up in his step.
The smiles from players, coaches and support staff to McCourty’s jubilation were hard to miss.
So, too, is the enjoyment that McCourty has been experiencing in his first year with the Patriots after spending 2017 with the 0-16 Cleveland Browns, following the first eight years of his career with the Tennessee Titans, who never qualified for the playoffs over that time.
“I didn’t realize they were recording me, but I think it’s fun to win,” McCourty explained of his postgame reaction.
“It’s a blessing to be able to able to play this game, and win, lose or draw, I think you walk off the field and you realize you can’t take that for granted and you’re appreciative of the blessing to just go out there and compete. But at the same time, you go through a lot throughout the offseason, throughout the course of a week, to prepare.
“When you can walk into that locker room on game day, and walk away with a win, it’s a good feeling. Not only for me but for all the guys in the locker room.”
McCourty, 31, has been one of the unexpected stories of the Patriots’ 3-2 start. He hardly took any repetitions in spring practices, opened the season as the No. 4 corner, accepted a pay cut to reflect his lower spot on the depth chart, but has decisively taken over the No. 2 spot over the last three games and has been playing arguably as well as any Patriots defender.
“He’s been terrific,” said linebackers coach Brian Flores, who is coordinating the defense this season after Matt Patricia departed to become Detroit Lions head coach. “He does a good job of putting himself in good position to make plays and help the defense play well, so I’ve been really pleased with him.”
McCourty’s best game came last Thursday against the Indianapolis Colts, when quarterback Andrew Luck targeted him on back-to-back plays on the second drive and McCourty’s tight coverage contributed to incompletions that preceded a missed field-goal attempt. He later used excellent technique with his left arm to reach around receiver Zach Pascal and deflect a pass that was intercepted by cornerback Jonathan Jones.
The Patriots officially turned to McCourty during their Week 2 loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when starter Eric Rowe was benched after two series. Rowe has since been sidelined with a groin injury, so McCourty has seized the top spot to the point where it’s now hard to imagine him giving it up.
It has been an unexpected turn for the twin brother of Patriots captain Devin McCourty (Jason was wearing Devin’s slide shoes in the locker room Tuesday), as the coaching staff even tried him at safety during the preseason.
“I love JMac more than I love Devin,” joked seventh-year linebacker Dont’a Hightower, when asked what McCourty has brought to the team in the locker room and on the field. “He’s a real smart dude. Obviously, he’s a lot like his brother as far as the athletic ability, but he just brings a lot of knowledge. It’s definitely a lot smoother, a lot more comfortable, having more guys knowledgeable and we’re able to communicate and talk more in depth about things. So he definitely brings that element.”
Cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer added that McCourty has “good speed” and is “about the normal size of most corners in the league [5-foot-11, 195 pounds]”, while echoing Hightower about his impressive mental acumen.
“I would say he has a very good understanding of football, not just from secondary play but from defensive football in general,” Boyer said. “He’s seen a lot of things and I think the biggest contributor for Jason is that he’s a selfless player. He works very hard to make himself better and he works very hard to make others better around him.”
McCourty and the Patriots have an extra day of practice this week leading into Sunday night’s game against the 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs, who lead the NFL in points scored.
Five weeks ago, McCourty wouldn’t have projected to be a big part of the team’s plans.
He is now, in one of the most surprising developments of the Patriots’ season.