Devin McCourty’s Durability, Mike Onwenu’s Bounce-Back And More Patriots-Ravens Final Thoughts

Plus: An NFL first for Josh Uche


November 17, 2020

Some final thoughts on New England?s 23-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens as the Patriots turn their focus to Sunday’s matchup with the Houston Texans:

— Patriots safety Devin McCourty reached a remarkable milestone Sunday night, surpassing the 10,000-snap mark for his career.

According to NBC’s game broadcast, McCourty has played the most defensive snaps of any NFL player since he entered the league in 2010.

The 33-year-old also has not missed a game since 2015, has missed just five in his 11-year career and has started every single contest he’s played in at the NFL level.

With the Patriots turning over roughly half of their defense this season and enduring recent injuries to starters like Stephon Gilmore, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Lawrence Guy, McCourty’s durability — not to mention his leadership and high level of play — has been invaluable.

“He?s incredibly reliable,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday in a video conference. “Anything in the game, you?d like to have consistently. But for that position — the free safety position that handles so much communication, formation adjustments and decision-making back there; kind of the quarterback of the secondary, if you will — that?s a critical role.

“Not only does Devin have great durability and consistency in his play back there, but his ability to handle those game-plan adjustments quickly and decisively is a big help to our defense, no question about it.”

A longtime team captain and respected locker room voice, McCourty also took over green dot duties early this season, relaying play calls from the sideline to the rest of the defense. That’s typically a linebacker’s responsibility, but with Dont’a Hightower sitting out this season due to COVID-19 concerns, Patriots coaches believed McCourty was the best man for the job.

— Standout rookie offensive lineman Mike Onwenu made a rare error in pass protection early in this game.

During the Patriots’ opening possession, outside linebacker Matthew Judon beat Onwenu around the edge and dropped Cam Newton for a 7-yard sack.

It was just the second sack Onwenu had allowed this season. It also was the only pressure he surrendered Sunday night. He was flawless in pass protection the rest of the way.

“I knew what I did wrong, and I just adjusted to it,” Onwenu, who’s started the last four games at right tackle, said Monday. “It was just kind of a play that said like, ?All right, I know what this guy?s going to do.? I know what type of rusher he is and what he?s about. So just instead of taking it to him, just wait and see what he?s going to do.”

Sunday was another superb outing for the Patriots’ ground game, and Onwenu was involved in one of the more striking illustrations of New England’s O-line dominance.

The sixth-round draft pick pulled from his right tackle spot to lead-block on Newton’s 4-yard touchdown run. But with center David Andrews, guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney, left tackle Isaiah Wynn, receivers N’Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd and running back James White all sticking their blocks, there was no one left for Onwenu to hit.

?It was definitely a great play,” Onwenu said. “The defense was kind of tricked out by the play. I was looking for somebody to block; my head was on a swivel. I wasn?t expecting that. There?s usually somebody out there. But to get a clean run like that to get in the end zone was a good feeling, definitely.”

— With Shilique Calhoun landing on injured reserve Saturday, rookie linebacker Josh Uche saw his role expand in his third game as a Patriot.

Uche played a career-high 21 defensive snaps in the win and bagged his first NFL sack, speeding past right tackle D.J. Fluker to drop Lamar Jackson.

Chase Winovich — Uche’s former Michigan teammate — also was in on the sack, as was Deatrich Wise.

Uche was used exclusively as an edge rusher, mostly in obvious passing situations but occasionally on early downs. The second-round draft pick was flagged for a neutral zone infraction and was one of several Patriots defenders to whiff during Jackson’s remarkable late-game scramble.

— Punter Jake Bailey again was an unheralded standout for New England.

With the Patriots holding a six-point lead in an increasingly stormy fourth quarter, Bailey flipped the field twice, booting one punt that traveled 46 yards despite being partially blocked and another that traveled 52 yards.

Neither was returnable. Baltimore began the ensuing drives on its own 26- and 20-yard line and punted on both.

Bailey finished with a 40-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the Ravens’ 17-yard line, forcing Jackson and Co. to trek 83 yards in 65 seconds with no timeouts. Four plays later, the game was over.

“Jake did a great job for us, as he has all year,” Belichick said. “His ball-handling, both punts and field goals … in those situations and certainly challenging conditions (Sunday) night and his ability to change field position with length and hangtime and ball placement to give our gunners a chance to get down there really eliminated the returns (Sunday) night.

“He does an excellent job and has done a great job for us all year — the last year-and-a-half, really — in all those areas.”

With the elite gunner duo of Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel at his disposal, Bailey has been one of the NFL’s best at limiting returns. Patriots opponents are averaging just 4.3 yards per punt return this season, the second-lowest mark in the NFL behind Thomas Morstead’s New Orleans Saints.

Bailey also ranked in the top 10 in that category last season. His net punting average (45.3 yards per punt) through nine games ranks second behind Detroit’s Jack Fox.

— Per the NBC broadcast, the Patriots entered the weekend averaging just 3.3 penalties per game, which, if sustained through the end of the season, would be the lowest rate by any NFL team since 1965.

That average is even lower now, as New England was flagged just three times for 18 yards in Sunday’s win: a lowering the helmet call on Terez Hall, Uche’s neutral zone infraction and a hold on Bethel on a punt return. Wynn also was whistled for holding, but that penalty was declined.

The Ravens’ lack of discipline was a major factor in this game. John Harbaugh’s squad committed a total of eight accepted penalties for 64 yards, and three of New England’s four scoring drives featured a Baltimore personal foul.

Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images
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