FOXBORO, Mass. ?On the very first play of the season, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer aired a deep pass down the left sideline that was intended for future Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens, who was in position to haul in a big gain in front of the Gillette Stadium crowd.
That was until wide-eyed rookie cornerback Devin McCourty swooped in and swiped aside the pass, laying the groundwork for a season in which the Rutgers product far surpassed everyone?s expectations.
McCourty is rarely challenged like that anymore, as he developed into a top-notch corner and an indispensible player on the Patriots? defense.
Now, though, is the time for McCourty to showcase his skills in the playoffs, when the truly great players earn their reputations, but the soft-spoken cornerback wasn?t worried about the hype that comes along with the postseason.
"Guys say, ?It?s a bigger stage,? but at the end of the day, it?s just football," McCourty said. "You?ve got to go out there and prepare the way you?ve been preparing all year, and you?ve got to put a little extra in your preparation. When Sunday gets here, you?ve just got to go out there and play."
McCourty recorded seven interceptions this season, the second most in the NFL and the second-best total for a rookie in Patriots history. His 17 passes defensed were tied for seventh in the league, and he finished second on the team with 71 solo tackles and fourth with 83 total tackles. McCourty also forced two fumbles and had one sack.
He?ll get his first chance Sunday to crack through that postseason pressure, and it should be interesting to watch his growth and development in a more challenging environment.
"I?m just going to go out there and play Sunday," McCourty said." I?m not really worried about what other people are saying or what they?re thinking. I?m just preparing to go out there and play."