Devin McCourty has heard the doubters. The critics. The fans who say the New England Patriots have no chance of contending without Tom Brady.
He gets it.
The Patriots were the paragon of NFL success during Brady’s 20-year tenure. It’s understandable to expect some regression now that the best quarterback of all time is plying his trade for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Moving forward without Brady will not be easy. But McCourty, who’s reached the AFC Championship Game in all but two of his 10 Patriots seasons, is maintaining a positive outlook.
“I think my goal is always to win as many games as possible,” the veteran safety said Tuesday in a conference call with New England reporters. “I don?t think you ever come into the season and talk, ‘Super Bowl, Super Bowl, Super Bowl.’ It?s about improving and winning games along the way as you improve. I think that will stay the same. Especially now, you have a lot of time to be on Twitter and stuff, so a lot of what I?ve seen is just people tweeting me like, ‘Enjoy what you guys had, it?s over, you guys won?t win a game.’
“I think that?s natural, though. I think if I was a fan and I watched the team and watched a guy for a long time and he left and he was so great, I would say that team is going to be terrible, too. That?s expected. But I think it?s our job as players to go out there and compete when we get the opportunity. I think, for us as a team, in my 10 years there, that?s always going to be the thinking.
“I?m passionate about that, (so are special teams captain Matthew) Slater, the coaching staff, so I don?t think that?s going to change. I think that?s how we?re going to be, and I expect that?s how we?ll lead the team and get guys — new guys, young guys — to follow the same way.”
Second-year pro Jarrett Stidham — or whoever winds up succeeding Brady this season — will have clown-sized shoes to fill at the quarterback position. But McCourty doesn’t believe New England will have any issues replacing Brady’s leadership.
Five of the Patriots’ seven captains from last season remain with the team: McCourty, Slater, running back James White, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and center David Andrews. Safety Patrick Chung has been a captain in the past and is entering his 11th season as a Patriot. Wide receiver Julian Edelman is heading into Year 12.
“I think what happens on teams naturally is guys step up and become new leaders,” McCourty said. “I think about the team when Vince (Wilfork) left and then (Jerod) Mayo left and Logan Mankins left, and I remember being one of those guys looking around like, ‘Man, that?s a lot of our leadership gone,’ and next thing you know, I?m one of the leaders on the team. I think that will happen naturally on more guys.”
The Patriots also have bid adieu to the likes of Stephen Gostkowski, Kyle Van Noy, Duron Harmon, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts this offseason, but much of their veteran core remains intact.
“I think we have a great group of guys in the locker room. I think it?s been like that for years,” McCourty said. “Obviously, we had probably the greatest football player ever on our team, so I think people really didn?t look at the leadership and different guys we had in the locker room.
“I know everyone?s kind of like, ‘What?s going to happen? Everything is brand new.’ But I don?t really see it like that. I see a continuance of what we?ve been doing and guys assuming the same leadership roles. When you look at myself, Slater, Jules, Chung — all those guys have been there 10-plus years. So we just have to continue to do what we?ve been doing.”