Patriots

McCourty knows Patriots have to quickly adjust to Hightower's loss

McCourty knows Patriots have to quickly adjust to Hightower's loss

FOXBORO -- It's time to go. No time for mourning. No time to look at one another with raised eyebrows and pursed lips. Replacing Dont'a Hightower will be one of the most difficult tasks the Patriots undertake all season, but they have to figure things out and quickly.

The bus, as they say, keeps moving. 

"It's a tough loss," Devin McCourty said Thursday. "He's obviously a guy who's been out there for a lot of years now, played multiple roles in the defense, been in different spots, communication, everything. He's a huge part of what we do. We've been out there for a couple games without him so we know what that's like. But it's always a sad thing when a guy like that goes down. A bunch of guys have to step up and try to kind of fill that role -- in this case a bunch of different roles."

MORE PATRIOTS

And they can't wait around to get comfortable in filling those roles, McCourty insisted.

"Guys have to be ready to go when you get in," he said. "Can't afford for it to take a while to find out who's going to play good football. We need to continue to get better. That doesn't change with anybody going out, myself, anyone. If they're not there, someone has to step up and play. It can't be open tryouts each week we go out there and play a game or defensively that will be really bad for us."

Whether it's with the players already on the Patriots roster, or whether it's by acquiring someone before the trade deadline, the Patriots understand there's a void to be filled. And for McCourty, someone who has seen his share of season-ending injuries to star teammates on both sides of the ball since arriving to New England in 2010, he's confident that it will be filled. 

"As a team, we'll always figure it out," he said. "I firmly believe. Our coaching staff spends a lot of hours in here figuring out what we need to do personnel-wise. Who needs to play here. What works. What won't work. We'll figure that out whether that takes a quarter or two quarters, it'll happen. We'll figure that out. But High's been through a lot this year trying to get back on the field. I think he was actually starting to feel good and feel better. Just a tough blow for him."

McCourty was around when Jerod Mayo suffered a torn pectoral muscle in 2013. Then Mayo tore his patella tendon in the middle of the 2014 season and was gone again.

Given Hightower's importance to the Patriots defense as the quarterback of of the front seven and one of the team's captains, there are some similarities to the circumstances though they were different situations.

"In '13 it was different," McCourty said, "because it was the first time that I had been here that he was out for a season so that was a little different . . . It was tough just to fill his leadership role, but a lot of guys had a lot of football experience and I thought was ready to take on that role.

"[Elandon Roberts] has been out there a good amount and [David Harris] got a good amount of playing time last week and he's a veteran so he's always ready to go in there. Obviously [Kyle Van Noy] has been out there and played a lot of snaps this season. Guys are out there and ready to go.

"When injuries happen it gives a lot of guys opportunity to play now. The thing that I think has been great about being in this building is a lot of guys have been waiting for opportunity and they work hard and they try to prepare themselves and be ready if anything happens. Very unfortunate for High, but some guys will get an opportunity to step up." 

As challenging as it will be to find a way to replace what Hightower gave the defense, McCourty said there is a silver lining in that the team went through this before earlier this season. 

"I think we're better than we were early in the season," McCourty said. "High played against Kansas City and then I think he missed two games. I think we're in better shape than we were then. But guys have to step up and play well right away. It can't be, we're waiting all the way for four or five weeks. Guys have to step up and be ready to go."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Decker may get benefit of the doubt early on as he transitions to Patriots offense

Decker may get benefit of the doubt early on as he transitions to Patriots offense

FOXBORO -- It's been well-documented. Eric Decker had a rough early portion of practice on Monday. He dropped a pass in one-on-ones. He dropped two more in a side session with Tom Brady. 

He wasn't thrilled with himself. He punched his own helmet. He hung his head briefly. 

During the session, in response to a tweet from NESN's Doug Kyed, former NFL receiver Andrew Hawkins (who had a brief stay with the Patriots last year) tried to shed some light on what exactly Decker is going through at the moment as the new guy in town. 

Some players never fully grasp what they're being told and never get the chance to play at full speed. Decker, who has some background in the offense thanks to his time under Josh McDaniels in Denver, says he's getting close. But Monday's start was a sign he was still a ways off.

Bill Belichick said on Tuesday that it's his job to properly assess the mistakes made by a player in transition.

"I think you always have to account for the transition of a player who joins your team at some point during the season, training camp, midseason, whatever it is," he explained. "I don't think there's any set formula on that. Just evaluate it, engage it. The more time you have, the easier it is to make the right decision."

Decker finished Monday with a handful of catches in the 11-on-11 period, including one deep down the sideline with corner Jonathan Jones on him tight. That sort of bounce-back didn't surprise Decker, but both he and the team know that there's only a limited number of opportunities for him left before they have to make a decision as to whether or not he deserves a roster spot. 

"The more you know about the player and his fit on the team, his role, so forth, how well he can do, sometimes that takes time," Belichick said. "We only have the time we have. Whatever it is, it is. Just have to make the most of it. [We] would like to have more in all situations, but that's not always possible. Sometimes you have to make a decision with less information than you'd like to have."

The subject of Decker came up when Brady met the media at camp later Tuesday.

"I've watched him play a lot of football over the years," Brady said. "He's always been on great offenses. He's got to use his skill set, the one he's learned and used for a long time. He knows how to get open. Now, it's just about learning about what we do and how we do it. 

"He's worked hard. He's been out here every day. You can tell he's a real pro and hopefully, he can add something to the group." 

Decker should be able to provide the Patriots with more information on Thursday night against the Eagles. He played just six snaps against Washington last week but could be in line for more in preseason game No. 2. That may mean more reps with Brady. The quarterback told reporters at camp Tuesday that he plans to play in that game.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

Eagle fan continues trolling Patriots with billboard near Gillette

Eagle fan continues trolling Patriots with billboard near Gillette

It's been over six months since the Patriots and Eagles squared off in Super Bowl LII, but fans on their way to Gillette Stadium for the teams' week two preseason matchup will have trouble getting the memory out of their heads.

According to Sports Illustrated, Eagles fan Gina Lewis, who lives in Massachusetts, placed a bet with her coworker over the amount of traction one of her tweets could get. The reward for surpassing her mark? A billboard outside Gillette Stadium reminding Patriots fans of their defeat at the hands of Nick Foles and the Eagles.

After launching a GoFundMe page to pay for the billboard, Lewis had a Philadelphia-based artist named Jordan Spector design it, which is now up at the intersection of Route 1 and North Street.

While the billboard will surely draw the ire of New England fans, it's hard to be too mad knowing that five is greater than one.