Devin McCourty’s Fumble Stands Out, But His Leadership Was Far More Important in Patriots Win

Devin McCourty's Fumble Stands Out, But His Leadership Was Far More Important in Patriots WinFOXBORO, Mass. — Devin
McCourty
nearly fumbled away a win on Sunday night, literally. But without
McCourty in the lineup, the Patriots would have never been in a position to win
anyway.

McCourty had as eventful a
day as you could expect from nearly any player in the NFL on Sunday, both good
and bad. But in the end, it was the good that outweighed all else as McCourty
played a major role in the Patriots' 29-26 overtime win.

After the Jets kicked a field
goal with just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the
game at 23-23, the onus turned to Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense to pull
out a win. But the ball would never even reach Brady.

On the ensuing kickoff,
McCourty had the ball stripped from his arms, giving New York great field
position and a prime opportunity to throw the knockout punch. Fortunately, a
field goal would be all the Jets could manage. But it still left the Patriots
down three points with less than two minutes to play.

The offense bailed McCourty
out as the Patriots were able to counter the adversity with one of Brady's
classic late game drives to tie the game as time expired. McCourty was
devastated by the turnover, but was relieved by the offense's ability to make
up for his careless mistake.

"My teammates saved my
life today," McCourty said with a relieved smirk on his face after the
game. "A bad mistake in the fourth quarter, I just have to do a better job
holding onto the ball. This was just a total team win we just kept
fighting."

McCourty's blunder clearly
leaves a stain, but without his play the Patriots also wouldn’t have even had the
opportunity to win.

McCourty rode quite an
emotional rollercoaster on kickoffs on Sunday. The fumble obviously sticks out
most as it came at such a crucial point in the game, but it was McCourty's
elusive speed and elite return skills that also saw him take a kick 104 yards
back to the house in the first quarter.

The sensational return gave
the Patriots a much-needed spark, but McCourty wouldn't take credit for the
effort.

"I'm a big part of that
kickoff return team and I think my teammates did a great job," McCourty
said. "Because on that touchdown no one touched me and I just have to work
on my responsibility and that's holding onto the ball."

That first quarter score is
what first got the Patriots on the board and helped alleviate some of the
pressure created by the Jets early lead. McCourty's impact was felt beyond the
return game, though. His versatility and leadership on defense was even more
important.

McCourty, who normally is the
Patriots top cover cornerback, filled in at safety in the absence of the
injured Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory on Sunday. He played well in the role
— as he did at times in 2011 — and was able contain some of the Jets' big pass
plays over the top of the defense.

Bill Belichick understood the
importance of the return but also knew how vital his ability to change
positions was for the defense.

"The kickoff return was
a big play; it got us going," Belichick said. "He’s a solid guy, he
does a good job for us. Whatever he’s asked to do, he does a good job for
us."

The Patriots secondary
struggled once again, even against Mark Sanchez and a hodgepodge of mediocre
receivers. But McCourty was one of the lone exceptions, and his willingness to
fill that void at safety proved important in the defense finding the little success
they did.

"With Chung
and Gregory both out, we felt like we had to do something back there at
safety. Devin has some experience back there. I thought he did a pretty solid
job from what I could see," Belichick said. "I thought the deep part
of the field was more secure than it's been."

Belichick's praise doesn't
come cheap, and McCourty's success both in the return game and on defense far
outweighed the harm his fumble caused.

The gaffed return may be what
is remembered about McCourty's performance, but it shouldn't be. McCourty's
leadership and unselfishness were what truly stuck out most in the win, and he
once again proved just how valuable he is for this Patriots team.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him
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