FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty was texting with Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins on Tuesday night, when Jenkins pointed out a statistic that has shined a brighter spotlight on McCourty this season.
“Man, you’ve got four interceptions!” Jenkins texted.
To which McCourty responded: “Yeah, man. For a lot of years, the ball didn’t find me a lot.”
But as McCourty, 32, later told reporters, the ball is finding him now — at a rapid clip. His four picks lead the NFL at the quarter point of the season, and equal the total he had in the past four regular seasons combined.
Such is the life of the NFL safety, a player who can do everything right on a play and not be recognized on the stat sheet. But when the interceptions come — no matter how they happen — that changes quickly, as evidenced by McCourty being named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for September.
McCourty’s season-high for interceptions is seven, which he accomplished as a rookie in 2010 when he was playing cornerback. He moved to safety during the following season, and in 2012 totaled five interceptions.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick seemed to chuckle at the thought that McCourty’s four interceptions this season represented any sudden surge by the longtime captain.
“Devin’s done a great job for us, which he’s done in the past and it hasn’t necessarily correlated with the interception number,” Belichick said leading into Sunday’s road game against the winless Washington Redskins (1 p.m. ET, CBS). “It’s the same thing with guys rushing the passer and not having sacks, or receivers getting open but not necessarily having the catches to go with it. Some of that is just statistics. We really try to evaluate guys on a play-to-play basis and opportunities.”
McCourty’s role in the experienced secondary is multi-faceted, as coaches view him as a tone-setter.
“He’s a tremendous leader. His dedication to the team and to the game is unmatched,” cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino said. “Just watching him interact with the players, and the rest of the team, is impressive. And his preparation for the game is unbelievable, the way he studies a quarterback.”
Pellegrino added that McCourty’s four interceptions have come, in part, because “he’s just been in the right place at the right time” which is a result of his preparation and how “practice execution equals game reality.”
Meanwhile, McCourty said that the four interceptions — one that was tipped to him by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, two on overthrows, and one in which Jets quarterback Luke Falk didn’t see him — reflect the strength of the Patriots’ defense.
“I’m able to play a lot of things just on being free and knowledge because our corners are so good. I don’t have to worry about anything,” McCourty said. “I have complete faith in what they’re doing, and I think a lot of us being on the same page allows us to do some things out there as a group that you can’t always do.”
Belichick also highlighted how McCourty’s defensive value isn’t always quantifiable on the stat sheet.
“In addition to all of the plays that we see or that he’s in position to make, or tackles and things like that, there’s the communication aspect of making decisions for the entire defensive unit that are critical,” Belichick said. “He also does a great job of that. It’s a little too much to just put it all on stats.
“Look, interceptions are big plays and we love to see them and love to have them. There are other critical plays in the game, too, that don’t show up on the stat sheet, and we recognize those as well.”