FOXBORO, Mass. — After the New England Patriots’ fourth and final preseason game, reporters surrounded cornerback Jason McCourty’s locker, asking how he was feeling with roster cuts looming.
McCourty entered training camp as a backup cornerback, moved to safety midway through the summer then played in the fourth preseason game. McCourty was on the roster bubble, and there were more than a few signs that he could be cut. McCourty admitted after the Patriots’ 38-24 Week 5 win over the Indianapolis Colts that he didn’t even know if he would make the roster.
Five weeks into the season, McCourty has emerged as one of the Patriots’ best defenders since taking over for an injured Eric Rowe as a starting cornerback. He let up just four catches on 10 targets for 44 yards with two pass breakups Thursday night. One of those pass breakups led to a Jonathan Jones interception. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had just a 14.2 passer rating while throwing at McCourty. McCourty has let up just 13 catches on 26 targets for 116 yards with three pass breakups on the season. He’s Pro Football Focus’ fourth-rated cornerback on the season.
It’s been quite a five-week span for the veteran cornerback.
“Last year, my DB coach, coach DeWayne Walker talked to me about karma,” McCouty said. “And we just talked about whatever is going on on the outside, being positive and being who you are and doing what you’re supposed to do. I think here we talk about it as mental toughness, some of the same things. For me, that’s what it’s been. No matter what the situation is, whatever the circumstances are but just making sure I’m handling what I’m supposed to handle as far as being on time for meetings, practicing as hard as you can. At the end of the day, if you do everything you can, you leave it up to god and whatever happens happens.”
And really, it’s been a crazy two-season span. McCourty went winless last year with the 0-16 Cleveland Browns. He was about to be cut this spring until the Patriots called up the Browns and acquired him in a trade. Now he gets to play alongside his twin brother Devin on a winning team.
“Yeah I’m excited,” McCourty shouted when he walked into the Patriots’ locker room after Thursday night’s win. “I did a lot of losing last year. That’s what I’m talking about.”
Maybe that’s why he’d be happy with any role on the Patriots.
“I don’t care where they put me, man,” McCourty said. “I just want to go out there and try to help this team win whether it’s at corner, whether it’s at safety, whether it’s inside at dime. Wherever they put me, I’m going to try my hardest to learn whatever it is in the defense and go out there and execute it well.”
His unselfishness is a big reason why he’s become such a hit among the Patriots coaching staff.
“Jason – he’s been terrific,” linebackers coach and de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores said Friday.” As a player, he’s come in, like you said, he’s played a few different roles. But, again, this is a team guy, selfless, really just wants to do whatever it takes to help this team win. So, again, whether it’s corner, whether it’s safety, I think he’s an experienced guy who is smart, he can make adjustments, he knows the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent. This guy spends a lot of time watching film and understanding the opponent, what they’re trying to do, so he really does a good job of putting himself in a good position to make plays and help this defense play well. So, I’ve been really pleased with him.”
And McCourty knows that as long as he’s lined up across from Stephon Gilmore, who let up just one catch on five targets with three pass breakups Thursday night, he’s going to see a lot of targets. He almost hauled in an interception for himself Thursday night.
“We talked about it as a secondary, being out there, we were all going to get our targets, and we were going to get our opportunities to make plays,” McCourty said. “I’m upset with myself. I had one in my hands, wasn’t able to hold onto it, but in this league, if you’re a DB, that’s what it’s about. You’re going to get targeted. With a guy like Steph on the other side, you know darn well you’re going to get your targets because he’s a playmaker and big-money guy for a reason.”
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