FOXBORO, Mass. — It was a big night in New Brunswick, N.J., when the New England Patriots beat the Houston Texans 34-16 in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. That’s because all three Patriots defensive backs who came from Rutgers University picked off Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty hauled in the first interception when he jumped receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ route and snatched the ball away down the right sideline. Cornerback Logan Ryan pulled in the second pick, which also came on a target to Hopkins, when McCourty was in close coverage. Safety Duron Harmon, as has become his signature play, closed the game with a late fourth-quarter interception when Osweiler targeted tight end Ryan Griffin with safety Patrick Chung in tight coverage.
Belichick gave McCourty, Ryan and Harmon a shoutout in his post-game speech to the team and in his news conference.
“A big day for Rutgers, a big day for Rutgers,” Belichick said. “They all had interceptions. We love to see that, love to see them for anybody but especially when we get three of them. That was big.”
Harmon appreciates the love but knows it won’t last for long.
“We’ll probably have some other words shouted at us on our meeting, but I’ll take it right now,” Harmon said, laughing.
This actually is the second time McCourty, Ryan and Harmon all have picked off passes in one game. They also did it in the Patriots’ preseason matchup against the Carolina Panthers this summer, but it obviously meant more Saturday night.
“It’s nothing like getting it in a playoff game,” Harmon said. “Just seeing all of the hard work that we put in, and it paying off, man, it’s really special. Especially with those two other guys.”
The three defensive backs are incredibly close. Ryan and Harmon have known each other since they were seniors in high school, visiting Rutgers on a recruiting trip. McCourty was like a big brother to both at Rutgers — he was a senior while they were freshmen — and with the Patriots, a fourth-year captain while they were rookies. They warm up together at practice and constantly are ribbing one another in the locker room.
“I told them on the sideline I was going to get a pick,” Harmon said. “I said there’s no way you two are gonna get a pick, and I’m not getting one. I just can’t go home like that. I won’t be able to sleep.”
Of Harmon’s nine career interceptions, including playoffs, seven have come in the fourth quarter. That has earned Harmon the nickname “The Closer,” from one writer, at least.
“I guess it’s reading the quarterback, knowing it’s going to be pass, just getting good breaks on the quarterbacks,” Harmon said, trying to explain his fourth-quarter success. “I mean, Chung had tremendous coverage on the tight end on that. He forced the high throw. It was just me catching it, but Chung really forced the interception, so I appreciate Chung for letting me get that pick.”
Ryan’s interception was meaningful because it was the first of his postseason career. Ryan also had some up-and-down moments early in the season, but he has come on strong in the second half. He had interceptions in two of the Patriots’ final three weeks of the season and rarely allowed big receptions or first downs after the Patriots’ midseason bye.
“I knew once Dev got one, I would get one and Duron always closes it out,” Ryan said. “It was a big day for Rutgers, just as we planned.”
Ryan also recorded a sack and finished second on the team with seven tackles despite allowing just three catches on seven targets for 9 yards with the interception and two third-down pass breakups.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler III/USA TODAY Sports Images