Lesson learned: How Jason McCourty's game-changing Super Bowl breakup came to be

Lesson learned: How Jason McCourty's game-changing Super Bowl breakup came to be

ATLANTA -- Because the McCourty twins are constantly ripping on each other in a good-natured way, as brothers do, it's hard to tell if and when they're ever genuinely critical of one another.

It was hard to tell about an hour after the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII, and I asked Devin McCourty about the play his brother made late in the third quarter. In a game where the final score was something out of bygone football era, 13-3, Jason McCourty's pass breakup on a sure-thing touchdown to Brandin Cooks ended up being one of the most crucial plays of the game.

"He blew it the first time," Devin yelled as he skipped into the Patriots locker room, almost as if he was hoping his brother would hear.

"He just did what he was supposed to do! He was supposed to do it the first time and they missed it!"

The first time?

Turns out the Rams ran the same play earlier in the game. It came late in the first quarter when coach Sean McVay had his 11-personnel grouping on the field and a bunch to the right of the formation. Quarterback Jared Goff was under center, as he often is.

When Goff dropped back, he faked a hand-off and surveyed the field. It was essentially a two-man route for LA. From the bunch, Robert Woods ran a deep-over route. From the opposite side of the formation, Cooks ran a post.

Deep-overs off of play-action have been a staple for the Rams all season as McVay and his team worked their way toward cementing themselves as owners of one of the most explosive offenses in football.

Understanding Goff's affinity for that route, and understanding his relative dearth of options on the play, the Patriots -- in quarters coverage, with defensive backs splitting the deep portion of the field into four zones -- jumped Woods with their two middle zone players: Devin McCourty and Jonathan Jones.

Gilmore, meanwhile, stuck with Cooks as the former Patriots receiver worked his way to the middle of the field. Jason McCourty played the opposite side of the field, guarding nothing but air in his zone. He was in no-man's land, and if Goff let one rip to Cooks in the middle of the field with Gilmore trailing, it might've been a touchdown.

That's what Devin was referring to when he playfully (maybe not so playfully?) said Jason "blew it the first time." But when Jason's chance came a second time against the same look, he made it count.

Late in the third quarter, with their 12-personnel grouping on the field, the Rams showed an identical formation: bunch to the right, under center, with Cooks in a tight split off the left tackle. 

The play was essentially the same: Woods ran a deep-over; Cooks got vertical quickly; running back Todd Gurley went to the flat.

The Patriots were in their quarters look once again, and Jones and Devin McCourty jumped the deep-over again. 

But this time, instead of Gilmore shadowing Cooks deep, as he did the first time, the All-Pro corner stayed in his zone nearest to the Patriots sideline. Woods was effectively triple-teamed, and Cooks was wide open.

In that moment, instead of playing the role of help defender, as he should have been back in the first quarter, Jason McCourty was New England's only hope of keeping Cooks from scoring.

Covering a whopping 19.5 yards in 2.4 seconds (reaching a top speed of 18.9 miles per hour, according to NFL Next Gen Stats), McCourty got to Cooks to separate him from the late-arriving Goff lob.

"Turning and running and hurrying up and trying to get there as fast as I can," Jason said Monday of his memories of the play. "Luckily I was able to get there in that split-second."

"It was a good play, man," Devin McCourty said. "I turned around like, 'Where's he throwing the ball? The over's covered. The post is covered.' And I turned around, and it was like, 'Oh damn.'

"But it was just great effort by [Jason] . . . He was already running to that play to be the second guy to help. But then when he saw him open, he just dropped his head and took off and used whatever he got left of that body to get there."

"Oh my God," Belichick said after the game. "That was a tremendous effort and a great play on the ball. It looked like [Cooks] was going to fair catch the ball. McCourty came out of nowhere to make that play."

"It just shows the relentless effort that Jason McCourty played with tonight," Duron Harmon said. "Not giving up on any play. The awareness he had to see that. That was something we had a little bit earlier, but [Cooks] wasn't that open. But all [Jason] did was run to the football, not give up. He made a great play, a four-point play right there."

LA kicker Greg Zuerlein eventually made a 53-yarder, but thanks in part to Jason, that would be about as close to a touchdown as the Rams would get the remainder of the night.

Part of Goff's confusion Sunday was that the Patriots were willing to play as much zone coverage -- like that quarters look during the McCourty-on-Cooks pass-breakup -- as they did. Under Belichick and Brian Flores, the Patriots played more man-to-man on a percentage basis than any other defense during the 2018 season.

But with two weeks to prepare and two weeks to tailor game plans, the Patriots broke one of their defensive tendencies to frustrate McVay and his young passer. At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, tin the most important game of the year, he Patriots secondary took on a different identity.

"We have a lot of smart football players on our defense," Devin said. "Lot of versatility from guys. And I think we've taken all challenges of trying to mix our game plan. That was hard for them. You look at our last four games, it's predominantly man-to-man, load the box. Everyone was kind of playing man-free or blitz-zero with no help.

"And we went out there to start the game -- and for most of the game we were in zone. We obviously still had our man in there on third down and at different times. But it was kind of a total change from what we had been running. We knew it would give them trouble. And I think it was one of those things, feelings-wise, we went in feeling really good about our game plan."

With the shift to more zone coverages, Jason became a significant part of that plan. He played all 63 snaps in his first Super Bowl, despite cracking the 60-snap mark just twice since JC Jackson became a starting corner in Week 13. Jackson, a man-to-man wiz in his first season as an undrafted player out of Maryland, played 29 snaps in the Super Bowl.

The defensive play of the game came with the Patriots playing man-to-man. It was one of those "blitz-zero" reps Devin referenced, when Belichick and Flores brought the house to force Goff into a bad throw that was picked by Gilmore late in the fourth quarter.

But the second-biggest defensive play of the night, the play that also happened to be most symbolic of New England's willingness to change styles on a week-to-week basis, was a zone look that might've won the game for Belichick and his team. Jason McCourty's pass breakup on Cooks's would-be touchdown in the third quarter would've given the Rams the lead, 7-3, and changed the entire tenor of the game.

Instead, the Patriots went on to score their only touchdown two drives after Jason McCourty's pass breakup, and they killed enough clock to make it hard on the Rams to come back from a double-digit deficit with a little over a minute left on their final possession of the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't really until they missed that field goal, the realization that there was nothing that they could do," Jason said. "We were gonna get the ball, take a knee, and that was going to be all she wrote. 

"Literally, standing next to Dev on the field-goal block team. That [Rams] kick goes up, it's wide left, and we just looked at each other. I remember running to the sideline and screaming to my family in the stands and realizing that that was it. Super Bowl champ."

“It was 10 times better than both of the other Super Bowls," Devin said of winning one with his brother. "Better than I thought it would be."

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2019 NFL Draft Tracker: Live results of all 32 first-round picks

2019 NFL Draft Tracker: Live results of all 32 first-round picks

After many long months of scouting and preparation, the time has come for teams to make the first-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Round 1 will take place Thursday night in Nashville, where the Arizona Cardinals will open the night with the No. 1 overall selection. 

Unlike previous years, the quarterback class isn't amazing, but that isn't likely to stop multiple teams from addressing this important position in the first round. This draft class is most deep and rich at talent on the defensive side of the ball. There are several defensive lineman and defensive backs who project to be very good NFL players, and we should here many of their names on the first night of the draft.

The New England Patriots will close out the first round at pick No. 32 as the reigning Super Bowl champions. The Patriots have traded out of the first round on several occasions during Bill Belichick's tenure, but there haven't been any recent reports suggesting New England is looking to move down from No. 32.

Here's the updated first-round draft order. We will add every pick to the right team as it happens, so be sure to follow this article throughout Thursday night. The action begins at 8 p.m. ET.

1. Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
2. San Francisco 49ers: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
3. New York Jets: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
4. Oakland Raiders: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Devin White, LB, LSU
6. New York Giants: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Josh Allen, DE, Kentucky
8. Detroit Lions: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
9. Buffalo Bills: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (via Denver): Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
11. Cincinnati Bengals: Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
12. Green Bay Packers: Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan
13. Miami Dolphins: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
14. Atlanta Falcons: Chris Lindstrom, OG, Boston College
15. Washington Redskins: Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
16. Carolina Panthers: Brian Burns, LB, Florida State
17. New York Giants (via Cleveland): Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
18. Minnesota Vikings: Garrett Bradbury, C, N.C. State
19. Tennessee Titans: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State
20. Denver Broncos (via Pittsburgh): Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
21. Seattle Seahawks
22. Baltimore Ravens
23. Houston Texans
24. Oakland Raiders (via Chicago)
25. Philadelphia Eagles
26. Indianapolis Colts
27. Oakland Raiders (via Dallas)
28. Los Angeles Chargers
29. Seattle Seahawks (via Kansas City)
30. Green Bay Packers (via New Orleans)
31. Los Angeles Rams
32. New England Patriots

Click here for our 2019 NFL Draft rumors live blog>>>

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2019 NFL Draft rumors live blog: Latest first-round news, reports, buzz

2019 NFL Draft rumors live blog: Latest first-round news, reports, buzz

The first round of the 2019 NFL Draft will take place Thursday night in Nashville, and the rumor mill is in overdrive.

A lot of the trade rumors involve Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen. Rosen was the 10th overall pick in the 2018 draft by Arizona and had a good-not-great rookie season. The Cardinals own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft, and the top prospect is Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. If the Cardinals select the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, there's no need to keep Rosen on the roster going forward.

How many teams would trade for Rosen? One team linked to the UCLA product has been the New England Patriots, who have 12 picks (tied for the most) in this draft. The Patriots don't have a worthy successor to Tom Brady on their roster right now, so it wouldn't be shocking if they took a QB in this draft or made a trade.

Much of the other buzz includes teams that might trade up or down in Round 1. If Murray or another top prospect starts to slip, we might see some action later in the night. Many of the quarterbacks taken in the first round over the last few years were selected by teams that traded up for that particular player. The best recent case was the Kansas City Chiefs moving up to No. 10 in 2017 to take Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who just won the NFL MVP award.

Keep it right here throughout the night as we track all the notable trade rumors, reports and overall buzz from the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

10:43 p.m.: We're starting to see a little more trade action in the last third of Round 1.

9:26 p.m.: The Pittsburgh Steelers have traded up to the No. 10 pick in a deal with the Denver Broncos. Here are the details.

The Steelers used the pick to select Devin Bush.

8:34 p.m.: Notes on the Jets (No. 3 pick) and Josh Rosen.

8:08 p.m.: With Kyler Murray and Josh Rosen in the fold, the Cardinals now have a surplus at quarterback.

7:57 p.m.: The Oakland Raiders need a pass rusher, and Nick Bosa was one of the best in college football last season.

7:41 p.m.: Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray has been the projected No. 1 pick in just about every NFL mock draft. 

7:05 p.m.: Could the Texans be looking to trade one of their elite pass rushers?

6:22 p.m.: Here are some teams that could move up in the first round.

6:15 p.m.: Could a trade between AFC East rivals be brewing?

5:30 p.m.: Could the Giants wait and not pick a quarterback in the first round?

5 p.m.: The Patriots draft board reportedly is small.

4:33 p.m.: Sounds like the Cardinals have narrowed their options with the No. 1 pick down to three names.

4:23 p.m.: Could we see a little movement in Round 1? Here's the latest.

2:40 p.m.: Could the Patriots trade up for Iowa tight end Noah Fant? Here's what Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst said on a recent podcast.

"But I've been told the Patriots will seriously consider trading up for Fant. That's how much they like him."

2:10 p.m. ET: Let's start off with some rumors from earlier in the day.

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