Patriots

McCourty explains what went into decision for Patriots to kneel during anthem

McCourty explains what went into decision for Patriots to kneel during anthem

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty stepped to the Gillette Stadium podium in a t-shirt that read: "No place for racism, sexism, fascism, hate." What followed was his explanation why he and his Patriots teammates felt like a silent demonstration during the national anthem was the best way to convey a message of unity following president Donald Trump's remarks during a rally Friday night. 

McCourty was one of more than a dozen players on the Patriots sideline to kneel for the anthem. Others, including Tom Brady, stood and linked arms during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner.

McCourty explained that Saturday was an emotional day for him and his teammates as they tried to determine how best to react to Trump's comments, which referred to players kneeling during the anthem as "sons of bitches" who should lose their jobs.

It was a complicated decision, McCourty said.

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"We were obviously very conflicted," he said. "We knew our message would be perceived by a lot of people in a way that wasn’t what we were trying to put out. A lot of guys felt, I mean, all over the place about the comments by the President Friday night. As a leader on the team, a lot of guys came to me and they didn’t know what to do. They just were kind of angry.

"It was good Saturday. We all kind of talked as a group of releasing that anger and not being angry. We were in chapel and a lot of guys talked about that in our faith, God is first. We wanted to come together."

The difficulty was to find a way to do that knowing that kneeling during the anthem would be construed as a sign of disrespect for those in the armed services.

"First and foremost, we hate that people are going to see it as that we don’t respect the military and the men and women that are way braver than us that go and put their life on the line every day for us to have the right to play football, and we know people are going to see it that way," McCourty said. "Guys have family members, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters that serve, and they were really conflicted about it.

"But, we just wanted to send a message of unity and being together and not standing for the disrespect and different ways guys felt. [There were] so many different things going through a lot of guys heads, and it was unique to see guys kind of come together and bond together as a group before the game and do that. But, I think all of us want a message that goes out of unity, being together, obviously as a team, and also as a fraternity of NFL players.

"Guys talk throughout the league about that, and it was great to be a part of a lot of guys trying to do the right thing. Obviously, it won’t be seen as the right thing to everybody, but I think in our hearts, what we focus on the most was that we were trying to do the right thing today. I’m proud of our guys and I’m proud of the group and the guys I get to go out there and play football with. They’re all great guys. They’re better people than they are football players." 

McCourty and his teammates were right in that their demonstration was viewed as a sign of disrespect by some. Fans booed immediately before the anthem and immediately after, presumably in response to seeing players kneel. 

McCourty wasn't the only player trying to clarify the message after the game.

"You want to stand with your brothers, in a sense, kneel with your brothers, and be by their side," said Brandin Cooks. "One statement I would just like to make: A lot of people think we're disrespecting the flag or the military, but my father was a Marine. My uncle was a Marine. My family fought in the Vietnam War. I have the utmost respect for the men and women that are fighting for our freedom.

"That's the first statement that I want to make. I feel [conflicted] in a sense because I have no courage to be able to do something like that. So I understand the magnitude. They're fighting across the world for our freedom. That's not the message. The message is more respect and unity and there's only so many ways that you can do it."

Phillip Dorsett was one of several players standing and linking arms on the Patriots sideline during the game.

"It's been an emotional past day-and-a-half. There's obviously been a lot of things going on," he said. "We just wanted to show unity with everybody and what everyone's going through. It has nothing to do with the military, obviously. I have the utmost respect for everybody in the military. I have family members in the military. They know. They understand. It's just about unity for us."

Nate Solder stood for the anthem, as did the majority of his Patriots teammates.

"People come from all different backgrounds and I believe they do what they believe is right," he said. "And I totally support them. There’s a lot of craziness outside of this locker room, but inside this locker room, we truly lock arms. We love each other. This is a great, great environment."

Newly-acquired Patriots defensive end Cassius Marsh linked arms with Matthew Slater, Dwayne Allen, David Harris, Brady and Dorsett, and he did so to promote a certain message -- but also to support his teammates. Marsh tweeted earlier in the day on Sunday, "We all most definitely deserve to play the game we love and exercise ALL our rights as citizens of this amazing, beautiful country that I love."

"I think it’s important to support your teammates," he said. "Lot of guys have been through stuff, and so they’re excercising their rights as citizens of this great country. I respect the military in a huge way. I have family in the military. My girlfriend’s father served in the military for a long time and retired. I have nothing but respect for the flag . . . I love my country, but I I just wanted to support my teammates and what I tweeted is what I believe in and whatever people think about that,  that’s fine.

"I tweeted it so people know how I feel about it because the platform was there for me to say something and be there for my teammates and support not only my guys here but my guys all across the league. I’m not trying to be too controversial, but I support my teammates and all the players in the NFL."

Added Danny Amendola: "We’re solid in here, I know that. White, black, Puerto Rican, don’t matter. We’re good in here, and we have a really solid group. Excited to play together, and work together. It’s awesome to be a part of."

Brady was asked about the message he was hoping to send by linking one arm with Dorsett and placing his right hand over his chest. He reiterated the theme of togetherness and explained that it was important for him to show support for teammates.

"I just think," Brady said, "there's just a great love for my teammates . . . We go through a lot together. There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I don't think it's easy to play this sport. I mean, there's a lot of guys that sacrifice a lot. I think you have a lot of respect for the guys who play, not only your own teammates but guys you play against. I mean, without them, it's not a great game. So, it's like I said. I believe in all of us coming together."

Asked about Trump's comments on players kneeling for the anthem, Brady replied, "I'm not getting into any of that. Like I said, I speak for myself. I believe what I believe. You guys know me. I'm a very positive person, so I try to just live by example and say positive things about people. I try to control my own emotions, and no matter what anyone says, I'm going to have a positive outlook, certainly with my teammates. We all go through ups and downs and there's struggles and it's life and we're all trying to navigate it as best we can. So, I believe that love is the greatest thing we have that overcomes a lot of things."

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Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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