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Patriots bring back the bag: New England defense continues to secretly stash takeaways 01.21.16 at 1:26 pm ET
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Per tradition, Devin McCourty and the rest of the Patriots defense continue to stash their takeaways in the turnover bag. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Per tradition, Devin McCourty and the rest of the Patriots defense continue to stash their takeaways in the turnover bag. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — If a tradition works, you keep it up. Right?

And so when the Patriots defense introduced the turnover bag last season — and New England ended up winning the Super Bowl as a result — according to defensive captain Devin McCourty, it just made sense to bring it back for another season.

“You introduce it and you go with the Super Bowl, you might as well keep it in there,” McCourty said with a smile before practice on Thursday.

The turnover bag was the brainchild of linebackers Patrick Graham last season, and was created as a way to get the defensive into a mindset to go “hunting” for the football. After each takeaway, the footballs were stashed in bags in a defensive meeting room at Gillette Stadium.

“The point of emphasis at the beginning of the year for us was to get the football,” Graham said before the Super Bowl last year. “We talked about hunting the football down and getting the football, and I thought that was the most descriptive imagery I could give them — to hunt for the ball. … And those guys, from day one, the first game of the season, they hunted the football down.”

So even though there was sizable (ahem) turnover on defense this season — cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington all departed, while defensive lineman Vince Wilfork also left — the Patriots have kept the tradition of the turnover bag alive.

“It was something we started last year and it was good for us, so we went with it again this year,” said safety Duron Harmon. “We definitely do have a bag and we try and force ourselves to fill as many bags as possible. We provide ourselves on trying to create turnovers.”

“I think that’s become a tradition of the defense,” McCourty said. “[Graham] came in last year and started it — it had nothing to do with the guys who were here last year. It was just a mentality that he felt we needed to play with as a defense. I don’t think that’ll leave.”

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Bill Belichick feels very ‘disappointed’ about putting his guy Jerod Mayo on IR once again at 6:04 am ET
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Jerod Mayo (51) draws a bead on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) during the AFC divisonal round. (Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports)

Jerod Mayo (51) draws a bead on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) during the AFC divisonal round. (Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports)

FOXBORO — If this is it for Jerod Mayo in New England, it’s been a great run for the eight-year veteran linebacker with the Patriots.

When Mayo was drafted out of Tennessee in the first round (10th overall) by the Patriots, Mayo immediately established himself as one of the best linebackers on the team and a leader in the locker room.

He was voted captain in just his third season, impressive by any NFL standard but really remarkable considering he was playing for Bill Belichick in New England, where leadership isn’t bestowed, it’s earned.

But now, for the third time in as many seasons, his season will end on injured reserve. In 2013, his season came to an end when he tore his pectoral muscle in a comeback win over the Saints in mid-October.

In 2014, he took a wrong step on the turf at Ralph Wilson Stadium, again in mid-October and his season was over with a torn patellar tendon.

On Saturday, in the second half, his shoulder gave out and he didn’t return. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday.

“Yeah, it’s tough. I feel bad for Jerod,” Bill Belichick said. “Nobody’s worked harder than he has, and I know how disappointed he is and we all are. And I personally am because I’ve seen the hard work that he’s put in, so it’s very unfortunate.”

Belichick has often praised Mayo’s ability in calling defenses and providing leadership on and off the field. Last year, Belichick went as far as to call Mayo one of the best team leaders he’s ever been around in his time coaching NFL players.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo
Darius Fleming proves to his teammates that he understands ‘the important things in life’ 01.20.16 at 9:57 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Those inside the Patriots locker room were not surprised by the heroics of Darius Fleming two days before the game with the Chiefs.

That’s when he saw a woman in distress inside a car that was smoking after an accident. He didn’t wait. He rushed over and kicked in a window and brought her to safety.

Could he have taken another measure that didn’t result in 22 stitches in his leg two days before a game? Maybe, as Devin McCourty related Wednesday.

“We’€™ve got great guys around here. No matter the time – playoffs, regular season, we’€™re always out in the community trying to save people [laughs],” McCourty said, referring to Vince Wilfork’s heroics after the AFC championship last January against the Colts. “Darius was really quiet about it, but once the guys on the team got a hold of it, we forced him to give a speech and everything. I think him, if you ask him about it, he explained it very simply. He saw a woman’€™s car that looked like it was smoking and he just jumped out of his car and he’€™ll admit there was probably some easier solutions he could have done, but I think it was nice. It was nice and dramatic, kick the window in and pull her out [laughs].”

Matthew Slater put a more serious tone to Fleming’s actions, which were finally detailed by the Walpole Police on Wednesday afternoon.

“I truly believe that we have guys around here that understand the important things in life, and they value the right things,” Slater said. “I think you hit it on the head, it really speaks to their character. It really speaks to the things that they value, the way they were brought up, the things that they believe in, and Darius has been a stand-up guy since he’€™s gotten here. When I heard the story, I wasn’€™t surprised at all, because you look at Darius and the way he carries himself, the way he treats people. He’€™s a tremendous young man, and we’€™re obviously all very proud of him. You never know what you’€™d do in that kind of situation, but what he did was pretty remarkable.”

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots
Devin McCourty says Patriots did a lot of reflecting during bye week 01.11.16 at 4:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — At this time of year, when one mistake could end your season, the voice of Bill Belichick is in the minds of players in everything they do, even when they’re not at Gillette Stadium.

Asked what he was doing Saturday night while watching the two AFC playoff games, safety Devin McCourty said he was watching more for details rather than paying attention to who was winning or losing.

“I watch more for situations. I watched with a couple of the guys Saturday night and it’€™s funny as things come up we’€™re talking about. We kind of hear ourselves talking just like Bill about a situation, not from a standpoint of watching and trying to learn X’€™s and O’€™s of they’€™re in two tight-end set, they’€™re trying to do this,” McCourty said. “For me, it’€™s hard to watch the game copies of that and see everything, but we’€™re watching this like, four-down territory, they don’€™t need to get everything on third down, maybe they’€™ll probably go for it on fourth down and then it happens, and some guys are wrong, some guys are right. I think we more watch from just situations and try to learn from that standpoint because anything can happen in these playoffs, so I think that’€™s always a good thing when you’€™re watching these games as a so-called fan.”

Of course, if McCourty was watching closely at the end of the Steelers-Bengals game, he saw something that would never happen with the Patriots. He watched as the Bengals melted down, showing no signs of self-control and discipline, blowing a golden opportunity to advance and play the Patriots Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Is that a lesson to be taken by watching it unfold?

“Definitely, I mean that’€™s important in the regular season and it’€™s very important now because that’€™s the difference between your season being over and you coming out of a tough game with a win and pushing forward and having another day to go out there and win the next round,” McCourty said. “I think the good thing about this team is that’€™s always very important. It’€™s always that choice of putting yourself first or putting your team first or what might hurt your team but make you happy at the moment.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Devin McCourty, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots
Devin McCourty raves about ‘intense’ defensive coordinator Matt Patricia 01.09.16 at 6:00 am ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s name has been linked to a few NFL head coaching openings this week, most notably the Browns, as it was reported the team requested permission and was granted permission to speak with him.

Safety Devin McCourty was asked what it’s like to play for the 41-year-old and the first word to come out of his mouth was “intense.”

“He’€™s a guy that makes sure we’€™re always kind of locked in,” McCourty said Thursday. “He has a lot of different things he likes to tell us to get us motivated. He really focuses on, for us as a defense, having a certain type of attitude. He brings that every day. He has a certain way about him. I don’€™t care what he’€™s going through, whether it’€™s no sleep, a lot of sleep, having a baby born, he has a certain attitude that he brings to work every day and I think the guys feed off of it.”

[UPDATE: It’s been reported Patricia will interview with the Browns on Saturday.]

He’s been with New England since 2004 and the Patriots’ defensive coordinator since 2012. Patricia has also served as the Patriots’€™ linebackers and safeties coach, as well as an assistant offensive line coach.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has also received interest from other teams, but he reportedly won’t interview with any teams prior to the Patriots’ divisional round game.

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Devin McCourty: Pats ‘in good shape going forward’ if they work to eliminate ‘negative stuff’ 01.08.16 at 11:23 am ET
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Devin McCourty and the Patriots are using the bye week to bounce back from a 2-4 finish to the season. (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Devin McCourty and the Patriots are using the bye week to bounce back from a 2-4 finish to the season. (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

FOXBORO — The Patriots had plenty of time this week to do some soul searching.

Devin McCourty, as a leader of the team’s standout defense, said that’s exactly what he and the team did as they held walkthroughs and not full practices while four other AFC teams get ready for battle on Saturday.

“I feel like every year I’ve been here it’s been kind of different bye week as far as where the team is physically, where the team is mentally, what we need to do going forward,” McCourty said Thursday. “Honestly, as a player, it’s hard to even remember last year’s bye week. Once it [happens], it kind of blends in together. I’m excited for this bye week. I think as a team, and where we’re at right now, obviously a lot of negative stuff but I think inside this locker room, there’s some things we’ve got to work on and we’re in good shape going forward if we work on them.”

That negative stuff, of course, is the team’s 2-4 finish to the season after a 10-0 start. That’s the worst six-game stretch to end a season in the 16-year tenure of Bill Belichick in Foxboro. Most startling was the 20-10 loss to the Dolphins in the season finale in South Florida, a result no one saw coming. The Patriots secondary yielded six plays over 20 yards in the loss and Miami, not including a 29-yard run from Lamar Miller.

But that is in the past and McCourty made it clear that it’s all about moving forward, getting rest, watching the games this weekend and then getting ready for Jan. 16 at Gillette.

McCourty is certainly one of those who could use the extra week to heal, after returning last Sunday from a high ankle sprain suffered in the win over the Texans in Houston Dec. 13. How is he feeling?

“Probably as good as anyone feels this time of the year,” McCourty said. “I think like everybody, excited to be in this opportunity and just trying to take advantage of the bye week.”

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Cincinnati Bengals, Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
Devin McCourty: Patriots have to hit ‘reset button’ going into postseason 01.03.16 at 5:50 pm ET
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The Patriots are not going into the postseason the way they would have liked. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Patriots are not going into the postseason the way they would have liked. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Patriots aren’t going into the postseason the way they would like.

The Patriots have now lost two straight games, as they fell 20-10 to the Dolphins Sunday in Miami and have scored a combined 30 points the last two games after averaging 30 points a game the entire season prior to Week 17.

While it is concerning the way things have gone of late, going 2-4 in their final six games, the team knows the playoffs are the beginning of a new season.

“I think every year you have to hit the reset button once the postseason starts and I think right now we definitely have to hit the reset button and get ready to go,” safety Devin McCourty said. “There’s no tomorrow. There’s no next game.”

Special teams captain Matthew Slater has been around the game long enough to know two losses to end the year isn’t reason for total panic, but is something to take note of.

“I don’t know if I would describe it as concern, but I definitely think we need to start playing a lot better than we have the last few weeks,” he said.

Fortunately for the Patriots, despite the final two losses to end the regular season, they will have a first-round bye to get healthy, as well as correct some of the things that have gone wrong of late.

“We have things to work on,” McCourty said. “There’s no tomorrow. You have to have a sense of urgency to go out there and get it done. I think we have guys aware of that. Now it’s making sure as a team we get it going and use this week to be ready to go.”

As for Sunday specifically, the Dolphins entered the game 5-10 with nothing to play for but pride, and for 60 minutes they looked like they were the team heading to the postseason, not the Patriots.

Slater said that is life in the NFL.

National Football League. Guys take a lot of pride in what they do,” Slater said. “Yeah, it hasn’t gone well for them this year, but still, they have good players. Good coaches. It’s the National Football League. Any given Sunday. If you’re not ready to go, you’re going to get beat.”

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