Devin McCourty Mad at Himself for Lack of Interceptions and 19 Other Patriots Thoughts

Devin McCourty Mad at Himself for Lack of Interceptions and 19 Other Patriots ThoughtsThe Patriots' final two regular-season opponents lack a bit of luster, but the stakes couldn't be much higher for New England, as it closes in on home-field advantage.

We'll get to that later, but let's address some other notable topics first in this week's Two-Minute Drill.

1. Good for all involved to get linebacker Jerod Mayo locked up through 2017. That's one less distraction in 2012, which was set to be the final year of his rookie contract. But with the way everyone at Gillette Stadium raves about Mayo — from head coach Bill Belichick to the players in the locker room — it's not the least bit surprising that this happened.

2. However, I think it's a mistake to tie in Mayo's contract with Wes Welker's situation, at least in terms of the franchise tag. First, I definitely understand the sentiment that Welker deserves his extension, and I can see why it would get some people fired up that Mayo's extension came before Welker's. That's all well and good.

3. There's just a very flawed argument that says Welker will now be franchised because Mayo got his extension. The two have nothing to do with each other. Mayo wasn't a candidate for the tag next season because he still had a year left on his deal. So, again, Mayo's extension has nothing to do with Welker getting the franchise tag.

4. Plus, it was widely believed anyway that Welker would get tagged if the two sides couldn't reach a contract extension by late February. The other notable players whose contracts expire after this season include defensive end Mark Anderson, wide receiver Deion Branch, defensive end Andre Carter, offensive lineman Dan Connolly, defensive end Shaun Ellis, running back Kevin Faulk, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, linebacker Gary Guyton, quarterback Brian Hoyer (restricted), safety James Ihedigbo, center Dan Koppen, defensive tackle Kyle Love (restricted), wide receiver Matt Slater, defensive lineman Gerard Warren and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell.

5. Out of that group, Welker looks like the only player who would be worthy of the franchise tag.

6. Also, for what it's worth, I've been told by numerous people that Welker has never brought up his contract this season, and it hasn't been any type of distraction. I'm positive that it's motivated him to have, perhaps, the best season of his career, but he has not let it affect him behind the scenes. Does he think about the next contract? No doubt. But it doesn't affect him in an adverse way.

7. The Patriots won't be able to replace defensive end Andre Carter with just one person. Mark Anderson will help as a pass rusher — here is my film breakdown of his performance against the Broncos — but he's not as good in run defense as Carter. Plus, I believe the reason he's been moved to more of an outside linebacker role has to do with his run defense. Anderson performs well in space, and he should be able to help in setting the edge with that extra room to work. It's just a little more difficult for him to do it directly over a tackle.

8. Here's one thought for the Patriots' base defense without Carter: In a 3-4 alignment, use Vince Wilfork as a defensive end on Anderson's side, and then play Kyle Love at the nose. The other defensive end position could be a rotation between Brandon Deaderick, Gerard Warren, Ron Brace and Shaun Ellis.

9. There's very little difference between Anderson as a defensive end or outside linebacker. He's still got the same responsibilities because he hasn't dropped back in coverage, but he did say it's easier to read the play from a two-point stance with a little more spacing on the outside.

"You can see a little more of what's going on," Anderson said. "You can see the play happening."

10. The one thing I noticed from studying Anderson's 33 snaps in Carter's absence: He's got a great motor. Seriously, Anderson never quits, and that was a major reason why he beat his blocker on nine of 18 pass rushes.

"When I'm out there, I like to have fun," Anderson said. "I just try to play every down like it's my last. I've been blessed in a great situation, and I just try to make the most out of it."

11. Anderson forced and recovered Lance Ball's fumble in the second quarter, but to complete the latter, Anderson had to fight for it at the bottom of a pile. He said he clutched the ball the whole time and held on despite someone ripping his helmet off. Anderson also said the worst thing that's ever happened to him under a pile was getting pinched and scratched.

"There aren't any rules [at the bottom of a pile]. Anything goes," Anderson said. "It's pretty rough down there."

12. Anderson probably should have been credited with a second forced fumble in the third quarter when he knocked the ball out of Tim Tebow's hands, but the officials determined Tebow's forward progress had been stopped — without blowing the whistle. Anderson confirmed Tuesday the whistle was never blown, and there was no explanation given on the field.

13. Like everyone on New England's defense, linebacker Rob Ninkovich had a rough go of it during the first three series Sunday, and he was frustrated with his inability to take down Tebow even though he had his chances, including that first touchdown run.

14. Naturally, Ninkovich was thrilled to finally bring him down on the final defensive play of the game.

"I was pretty sick after the first one when I missed him on that nine-yard TD, but that's football," Ninkovich said. "You're going to make them, and you're going to miss them. I was chasing him down a lot and all day, so it was nice to get one, especially 30 yards down field on fourth down."

15. Mayo, by the way, is still dealing with the aftereffects of that knee injury he suffered in Oakland. He told me "it's getting better," so that's a good sign. But add him to the list of players who would really benefit from a first-round bye in the playoffs.

16. Speaking of which, it's extremely important for the Patriots to win their last two games. Obviously, with two wins, they'll clinch the No. 1 seed. But a loss could be crippling, especially if Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston win out.

17. Pittsburgh would be eliminated from that tiebreaker, which would sort out the top-three seeds between the Patriots, Ravens and Texans. If all of them finish 12-4, the Texans would take the No. 1 seed with a superior record against AFC opponents. Then, the tiebreaker between the Patriots and Ravens would be determined by strength of victory, where Baltimore has a significant edge. Therefore, one loss in the next two weeks could drop the Patriots to a third seed, which is a significant downgrade from the No. 1 spot.

18. The Patriots' strength of schedule (combined winning percentage of all opponents) is .464. Interestingly, only five teams have a worse strength of schedule, but three of them are the Saints (.429), Packers (.439) and Texans (.454).

19. Cornerback Devin McCourty gave an interesting answer Tuesday when asked if he was surprised he didn't have any interceptions yet this season.

"I'm mad at myself," McCourty said. "I think each defensive back in this league comes in the season, and that's what they want to do. They want to get interceptions. There's some missed opportunities, and sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way. When you put that together, you get pretty mad at yourself."

20. Practice squad defensive end Markell Carter got another pay raise this week, as his salary doubled from $149,000 to $306,000, which is a massive number for someone on the practice squad, which has a minimum salary of $96,900. It's a prorated salary, which is paid out in 17 installments, so Carter will receive $18,000 for each week until the end of the regular season. However, Carter could get promoted due to Andre Carter's injury. If Markell Carter is promoted to the active roster, he would likely receive the rookie minimum of $375,000, which will give him an extra $4,058 per week. Not bad.