Breer: Pats have faced 'real question' about internal leadership


The New England Patriots' changing of the guard apparently has come with a few bumps in the road.

Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reported before Sunday's game against the New York Jets that safety Devin McCourty "set off some alarm bells" in New England recently, and that McCourty's fellow veterans may have been struggling to get through to the team's younger players and newcomers.

Breer joined NBC Sports Boston after the Patriots' 54-13 rout of the Jets on Sunday to provide a little more context on that potential leadership divide.

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"There was a real question, I think, over the last few weeks internally in that organization about leadership," Breer said, "and about whether or not old guys like Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy were getting through to the locker room.

"I know there were some newcomers who came into this place and sort of said, 'This isn't what I expected. This isn't what I thought the Patriots were going to be.'"

According to Breer, Sunday's win was a big step in the right direction, with rookie quarterback Mac Jones, third-year running back Damien Harris and recently-signed tight end Jonnu Smith asserting themselves on the field.

"Seeing some young guys, some new guys, some guys who maybe weren't around for the championships take charge -- guys like Mac Jones and Jonnu Smith and Damien Harris -- I think was a very significant thing," Breer said.


"I think the fact that the younger guys and the newer guys who weren't here for championships took lead roles was pretty significant."

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To Breer's point, every major offensive contributor on the 2021 Patriots -- with the exception of backup running back Brandon Bolden and James White, who's on season-ending injured reserve -- wasn't on the 2018 Super Bowl roster. Jones threw for 307 yards Sunday while Harris topped 100 yards rushing in his second straight game, and Smith totaled 57 yards in the first half before departing with an injury.

On defense, veterans like McCourty, Hightower and Van Noy have struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness while relative newcomers such as edge rusher Matt Judon and safety Kyle Dugger have stepped up.

That's not to say New England's veteran leaders have lost their voice in the locker room since Tom Brady's departure in 2020 free agency. But the players who perform well on Sundays should have a voice as well, and the Patriots are getting increasingly more contributions from the "new guard" of players who joined the team after 2018.

That formula for success worked against the Jets, but New England faces a much tougher task in Los Angeles next weekend against the 4-2 Chargers.