Devin McCourty in Good Spirits After Rib Injury, But Patriots Should Be Cautious With His Return

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FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty breezed through the locker room Monday, walking stride for stride with the rest of his teammates after a meeting. The rookie playmaker was smiling and having a good time was his fellow defensive backs.

While McCourty and the rest of New England awaits the results of his MRI, according to the Boston Herald, it at least appears to be a good sign that he's remained in good spirits after suffering a rib injury in the second quarter of Sunday's victory against the Bears.

Of course, injured guys are capable of smiling and having a good time. Running back Kevin Faulk and defensive end Ty Warren have remained around Gillette Stadium this season, and their bright personalities haven?t dipped all that much, either.

Yet, it sounds like McCourty has escaped serious injury, which is a major break for the Patriots. McCourty will probably finish a close second in the voting for Defensive Rookie of the Year — behind Detroit defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh — but there's little question that McCourty is the most valuable defensive rookie in the NFL this season.

In the last two months, McCourty has emerged as one of the better cornerbacks in the league, and he's been a turnover machine, registering six interceptions and one forced fumble in the last eight games.

But in a cruel twist of fate, McCourty suffered the rib injury while punching the ball loose from Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox. McCourty landed hard on his rear end after jarring the ball free, and with freezing temperatures on a grass field, it must have been similar to playing on cement. McCourty tried to gut it out after the play, but he removed himself from the game due to discomfort.

McCourty has turned into, perhaps, one of the Patriots' three most indispensible defensive players along with linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who recently anointed McCourty as the best cornerback in the league.

If nothing else, the Patriots should be extra cautious with McCourty during the last three weeks of the regular season. If they have the choice, they should sit McCourty this week if Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers can't play due to a concussion. More than anything, the Pats just need McCourty to be right for the playoffs.

In the event that McCourty has to miss any time, cornerback Darius Butler, who lost his starting job to Kyle Arrington in Week 3, would take McCourty's spot.

The bigger question from there would be further down the depth chart. Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite has missed four consecutive games with a hip injury, and Chevis Jackson was signed last Friday but was inactive in Chicago. More than likely, though, the Patriots would use safety Patrick Chung as a nickel back in the slot.

While it looks like the Patriots will get McCourty back eventually — if they lose him for any time at all — it won't be an ideal situation for the time being. The Patriots have forced 27 turnovers this season, which is tied for the fourth most in the NFL, but one of those turnovers might have hurt them more than it helped them.

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