Patriots

Stallworth: 'I'm a lot more mature now'

707268.jpg

Stallworth: 'I'm a lot more mature now'

FOXBORO -- After Donte' Stallworth re-signed with the Patriots in March, agent Drew Rosenhaus revealed it was his client's wish all along.

He said, Drew, you got one thing to do for me this offseason: Get me to New England, Rosenhaus said.

Stallworth took a break from Tuesday's workouts to talk about his desire to re-join the Pats.

"Being here it's obviously a special place and I've always had a lot of respect for Mr. Kraft and really the whole organization and a lot of the players here," he said. "Still got a lot of friends on the team, so I just thought that it made a lot of sense for me to come back here and try to help this team win some ballgames."

New England won plenty of games in 2007 when Stallworth was last here. It's the one that eluded him -- the Super Bowl -- that he's after.

He said chasing a championship again as a Patriot is a thrill. If not a little strange.

"It was interesting. It was a little weird feeling. It was kind of surreal," Stallworth said of his return. "But honestly, I think it took about a week or so to get adjusted and to really realize that, hey, I really am back; it's not just a dream. It's been good being back and seeing a lot of the same, familiar faces -- friendly faces."

Though there's temptation to submit to that time warp feeling when seeing Stallworth at Gillette, reality stubbornly elbows in.

Stallworth is 31 years old. He hasn't been with a team for consecutive seasons since his first four years (all in New Orleans) in the league. He hasn't started a game since 2008. And those 46 receptions he had for the Patriots? Stallworth didn't even have half that in a solid 2011 for Washington.

His focus isn't on the numbers. When Stallworth tweeted "This time around, things will be different," on the day he signed, the thinking was big-picture positive.

"I'm a lot more mature now than I was in 2007," he said. "I feel like I'm playing better. I'm in a better place mentally, physically and I just felt like at that time I was still trying to mature and grow into a professional athlete. I feel like I'm a lot further down the road than I was last time."

He believes his game is actually better now.

"I think, back then, I was really more relying on my talent. Now that I'm going into my 10th year, I think I run better routes now and understand different coverages and what teams are trying to do. That's a big thing because you always hear people say this game is 90-percent mental and 10-percent physical... I don't know who came up with that percentage, but I would say that it's fairly accurate for certain reasons.

"You just look at a guy -- not by any means, don't take this wrong like I'm comparing myself to Jerry Rice -- but Jerry Rice wasn't the most talented guy. But he was the best receiver to ever play this game just because he understood what defenses were trying to do. He understood the little nuances of zone coverages and things like that. That's something I've gotten a lot better at as I've gotten older in my career."

His is a smart attitude to project, considering there are 12 receivers coming into camp; the competition is eagerly anticipated.

Stallworth said the chance is all he needs.

"I think you just come to the reality that basically you have one shot to prove yourself. Whatever happens after that is really up to me and my performance."

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

MORE:

After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE