Patriots

More ups and downs for McCourty

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More ups and downs for McCourty

FOXBORO, MA -- Devin McCourty must have asked Santa for an interception this Christmas.

The cornerback picked off Matt Moore in the fourth quarter of New England's 27-24 win. It was an important play: the score was tied at 17 and Miami was driving into Patriots territory. Moore, who successfully hung up 294 yards on the opposing secondary, looked downfield to where Brian Hartline was streaking toward the end zone.

The ball went up...

It came down with McCourty at the New England 2.

"Felt pretty good," he smiled after the game. "Finally got a chance to get one and reel it in. It was a big play, helped the team out big time."

His use of "finally" is appropriate. It's taken McCourty 16 weeks -- 13 games because of the separated shoulder -- to nab a pick after tallying seven in his 2010 Pro Bowl season. The sophomore slump is old news by now, so much so that the inconsistencies are one of the most consistent aspects of his play.

But also unfailing? His attitude. A good one.

Despite the cloud of negatives overshadowing each individual positive, McCourty has remained accountable. He has spoken to the media on behalf of the secondary after every loss. He's answered every question about surrendered yardage and pass interference penalties (this week it was on third-and-12). Not once has McCourty shown frustration or impatience.

He views the season as a fight that's far from over.

"That's the life of playing corner," he shrugged. "You make a play and then they come right back and make a play. I think you just keep battling. In the secondary you're always going to go against that.

"When you play this position you kind of tell yourself that your whole career. Today wasn't the first day I got beat in my career and it won't be the last. You've just got to keep playing."

Fans and media alike are quick to heap criticism on McCourty for the drop-off. He knows he deserves it; a guy can't rival Ndamukong Suh for defensive rookie of the year then return as a defensive liability the next season.

Unfortunately, that's what he now resembles. For each person who mentions McCourty's interception there will be 10 clamoring to list each of Miami's big gains. Like the fourth quarter 41-yard bomb Moore delivered to Brandon Marshall on third-and-10. That play was more than half the distance of the entire drive, which ended in a touchdown and brought the Dolphins within three points.

Marshall finished with 156 yards and a touchdown -- the bulk of his damage done on McCourty's side.

So it goes.

The reality is, McCourty's rookie campaign was good enough to give him a long leash. It's likely the Patriots' biggest worry is preserving his nucleus of confidence, and that means riding out the waves. How does McCourty handle it all? He's buoyed by teammates.

After coming down with the interception McCourty scrambled to his feet and high-stepped to the sideline, ball tucked under his right arm. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich was there around the 20. The pair met with a thunderous bump in mid-air.

Ninkovich recalled the celebration with a smile. The relief wasn't just McCourty's.

"As a defense we all lean on each other. An NFL season is tough... you've got a lot of ups and downs. You've got to have that team camaraderie, everybody around you staying positive."

It hasn't been easy. But as McCourty will tell you, that's not why you fight.

Nate Solder says Super Bowl rematch talk nothing but a distraction

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Nate Solder says Super Bowl rematch talk nothing but a distraction

Remember how irate some of the Patriots veterans were after the first game of the season with where the team’s collective head was at? We heard it from Tom Brady. We heard it from Nate Solder. We heard it from Duron Harmon. 

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No one gave an example of the lack of preparation and intensity players supposedly engaged in. But the start-to-the-season mindset still rankles Solder to the point where he brought it up again this week.

When asked during Quick Slants about a Super Bowl rematch with the Falcons this Sunday, Solder visibly bristled and referred back to the start of the season.

“The first few games of the season, there was a lot of baggage drawn in from last season which really wasn’t helping anybody,” Solder said. “People are gonna bring all that stuff back up this week and it’s really just a distraction. They have different players, they have things going on that weren’t going on before, it’s a different part of the season. We really just have to work really hard to be prepared for a different team.”

We’ve beaten and re-beaten the dead horse pertaining to offseason expectations that turned into a millstone for this team.

Bu the unanswered question is why – for a team that’s had so many successful seasons and negotiated Super Bowl success prior to this year – did this year’s team fail to ignore the noise, as Solder indicates it did?

Was it the avalanche of positive pub? Other Patriots have been anointed but this year’s optimism outpaced any other defending champ’s propaganda because there wasn’t the same class of competition league-wide (it appeared) and the Patriots seemingly made moves to improve its roster. Did that get in their heads?

Was it the outflow of leadership caused by free agency, retirement and injuries? The loss of big personalities like Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Martellus Bennett and Julian Edelman and pro’s pros like Logan Ryan and Rob Ninkovich may have been underrated.

What is clear is that, while it still irks Solder, Bill Belichick has moved on verbally flogging the team for its entitled approach and has taken a different approach. He’s now directing his ire at the people that put that juju on the team. 

The process continues Sunday night as the Patriots (and Falcons, for that matter) attempt to bury the ghosts of 2016 by confronting each other.

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Patriots donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game

Patriots donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game

Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona is also an officer in the Navy. He was instrumental in having the team donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game against the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium.

As ESPN's Mike Reiss pointed out, Cardona and teammate Matthew Slater were behind the plan to provide the tickets. The military personnel will also be on the field before the game. 

"It's a number that far exceeded expectations," Cardona told Reiss. "It was a collaborative effort. I was talking to Matt Slater, we were thinking of ways to reach out, especially to our local military community, and show how much we value them. My point of view was, 'Let's give these men and women the experience of coming to a big game.' Let's get them a personal feel, them being our personal guests, guests of the team."

The 200 tickets were provided by Patriots players and coaches, who each receive two tickets to a home game and the opportunity to purchase others 

“My point of view was, 'Let's give these men and women the experience of coming to a big game,'“ Cardona said in Reiss' story. “Let's get them a personal feel, them being our personal guests, guests of the team.”