PATRIOTS DEFENSIVE BACK DEVIN MCCOURTY
Q: Does the Pro Bowl still have as much luster as it did when you were first nominated a few years back?
DM: Yeah, I mean it's a great honor. I think in my case it speaks volumes to what we've done as a defense [and] as a team. I think my teammates, and us just playing at a high level, has helped me get nominated but I think any of our guys in the back end could have got nominated in the same role. So I think it's still an honor to be voted. That's really about it.
Q: What does it mean to you that you were nominated as a cornerback in 2010 and now as a safety in 2016?
DM: Like I just said to Butch [Stearns] - just trying to keep my job; playing corner, trying to play well, so to keep coming to work and then get moved to safety and just trying to do the same thing. To me, it's that simple. You just try to come here every day, do your job, continue to play better, get better. I think as long as I play I just try to get better year in and year out and [I'm] still trying to just do that.
Q: How much of a sense of urgency is there starting with today and moving forward?
DM: A huge sense of urgency. I mean it's kind of like we were in the same position last year - same opponents the last two weeks of the season, obviously same goals. Last year whatever we thought of how good of a position we were in and, 'blah blah blah.' The season didn't end the way we wanted it to. I think the biggest thing we always talk about is past games, last year, the biggest thing is learning from those experiences. Obviously those games have no bearing on this year's games but just learning of, 'What did you do that week?', 'Did you go the extra step to try to prepare?', 'Did you go the extra mile at the toughest part of the season - two games left, Christmas, New Years, holidays - just trying to put in a little extra?' So I think obviously Coach [Bill] Belichick reminded us of that and I think as guys that were here last year and veterans, we've got to try to urge the team to have that sense of urgency by obviously first leading by example out there today. [It's a] short week, try to get ahead of yesterday and then now just trying to put it on the practice field and get ready to go for Saturday.
Q: What are your thoughts on Brandon Marshall and Quincy Enunwa as well as their quarterback?
DM: We've got to try to contain those two guys. They both had pretty good days against us down in New York so I think we've just got to compete. It's the same thing with those two guys. There are going to be times they make a great play, there are times where we have them covered [and] we have to try to go out there and make our own plays whether it's getting the ball out or trying to intercept the ball. But those two guys, they're going to be in the offense, they're going to get the ball. I think another guy is [Robby] Anderson. We've got to be ready for him. He has made a ton of big plays since we've played them last. He's a guy that we've just got to be ready for and like you said, seeing a different quarterback maybe this week with [Bryce] Petty. He has been in there the last couple games. [He's a] younger guy but you can see he understands the offense, he's doing the things that they want him to do, that Chan Gailey wants him to do in his offense. He has a big arm. He's thrown shots down the field and he's really spreading the ball around so another week where we have to all play well, especially in the back end. It won't be one guy against [Brandon] Marshall. It's really everybody. We've got to all come ready to play. They use everyone in the passing game just trying to get everyone involved. We've just got to have a complete game defensively.
Q: Does it say anything about the team that you have Pro Bowl representatives from offense, defense and special teams?
DM: Yeah, I think we're just a blue-collar, hard-working team at every position. Guys just going out there and trying to put it together as a team and I think we've just got to continue to do that. I think the individual goals are great but I think our focus here is as a team and these last two games are going to be huge for us. You get a look at those four guys, all captains, we've got to try to lead and get the team ready to go for this final stretch.
Q: Is focus a skill that you can develop over a period of time? How do you compartmentalize the responsibilities of work while knowing it's the holiday season?
DM: I think it's definitely something you learn. I definitely feel I'm better at it now in year seven than I was in year one, two, three. I think you realize what's important. I think it's easier when you're younger to say, 'It's Christmas. That's important to spend time with my family.' I think you go through the process, you get in the postseason and you're like, 'Wow, we've got one shot to do this.' We're going to have time to spend with our family on the off day or on Monday or later that night. You start to realize how short the window is. I just try to echo that to all the guys to just try to take advantage of this opportunity with this team, playing with these guys. You're not going to get that opportunity next year, or it's going to be different. To me, that sense of urgency comes from a little bit of fear that this is it. You've got one ride, one opportunity to take advantage of everything you've really put in since April. So when you think of it along those lines, going at it since April, working hard all offseason, training camp, all the way until this, are you really willing to give that all away just for maybe a couple hours? I think that's what pushes me and motivates me to make sure I'm on top of it and try to lead these guys.
Q: Does the culture here contribute to that?
DM: Yeah, I think so. I think for a younger guy when you get to a team or you're on a team, new things are happening as you go along in the season and you look to the guys that have been here. First it starts with listening to the head coach who comes in and echoes how important this time of year is and trying to put everything in the drawer for the offseason of stuff that's not going to help you on the football field. Then it goes to the players, the guys you're watching in the locker room, seeing what they're doing, seeing them put in time, seeing them spend extra time at the facility. Even guys that have full families at home I think guys, younger guys, see that and they're like, 'OK this is what being a true pro is, this is what it takes to win.' So I think you just do those things, follow the lead and you'll be alright.
Q: Did Bill Belichick verbalize any new goals this week about anything beyond beating the New York Jets?
DM: Nah, I think you guys know him. This week is all about beating the Jets. Like I said, he talked about last year being in the same positon - two games left, trying to play your best football to end the season and us doing it so I really think that's what he's hard on this year of trying to execute and finish down the stretch. [That was] something that we obviously struggled with last year losing two tough games in the division. So I think really from him and Matty P [Matt Patricia] that has been the thing. [We're] just trying to play well and it's going to start with this game and then we'll worry about next week later.
Q: Why does the team do such a good job of not letting something like Michael Floyd's current off-field situation become a distraction? How do you handle that, especially with a new player in the locker room?
DM: I think it's something that Coach [Bill] Belichick preaches. For the players 'speak for yourself.' There is nothing I can comment on or say about that. Then it all comes down to if it helps you win a football game or if it doesn't help you win a football game. Obviously I think for us as players, our goals are going to be on being prepared to play on Saturday and that's something we've just got to focus on. I think if you start talking about distractions and different things keeping you off guard or making you not be able to prepare well and then you go out there and you lose a game, I think that's what really hurts you. So I think the team realizes how urgent we have got to be in preparing and being ready to go Saturday above all other things.
Q: What can you say about Dont'a Hightower beyond the statistics? What makes him an All Pro beyond the numbers?
DM: He's just a leader. He really, in our defense, is able to do everything they ask of him. Whether it's be on the ball in a defensive end/outside linebacker-type role, if it's being off the ball inside in the middle, whether it be dropping in coverage, whether it be rushing, his versatility helps us out so much as a defense. Sometimes it makes it a lot harder on him paying attention to who's in the game, how his role is going to change. He's got [become] very flexible since he came in as a rookie. I think he has just developed and become more and more of a leader. He came in as a great player and he just keeps improving on that but for us defensively, I don't know where we would be if we didn't have him in the middle calling the huddle and getting everything aligned. So he has been a huge part of our defense.
PATRIOTS WIDE RECEIVER MATTHEW SLATER
Q: Does this tie you with your father now for Pro Bowl invitations?
MS: No, not quite. He's got seven. But in my mind, my dad will always be superior for not only what he did on the football field, but the type of man he was and the way he tried to raise my brother and I. That's what was most important to my dad and that's also what I value highly above all things is my walk with Christ and how I am in the home.
Q: What does it mean to you to be recognized?
MS: It's very humbling. You think about all the good football players that do what we do that don't necessarily get the recognition, some on this football team. You look at a guy like Nate Ebner who in my mind has been a Pro Bowl player. He's had a great career for himself. You look at some of the young guys, the Brandon Kings, the Jonathan Joneses, the Brandon Boldens. There are so many good players in this league and on this football team. Hopefully this says something about the culture that we've created here. I really believe firmly that we have one of the best groups in the NFL when it comes to the kicking game and we really push one another. Coach [Bill] Belichick believes in that phase of the game and it's indicative with the way we build our roster every year. I think this is certainly a team recognition for the way that we've played this season and hopefully we can continue that.
Q: Do you feel you as a special teams unit are turning the corner here after a strong showing in Denver?
MS: We just try to live in the week-to-week. I don't think we think about turning the corner or momentum. We just live week to week. Last week it was better, but this week is a new week with a new opponent, new game plans, and we have to go out and execute on Saturday. Our hope is that we can prepare ourselves and go out and execute at a high level on Saturday. We're definitely going to try to put the work in as the week goes along and we'll see if that's good enough for us.
Q: On a week like this week, how big is that culture of stressing the importance of getting your job done when you're here during the week and taking care of your own business when you're not?
MS: It's very important. I think as professionals we have to understand that we have a job to do. We have to prepare ourselves regardless of the circumstances. It just so happens to be Christmas week. We have to prepare ourselves to do our job and we can't cut any corners. But then at the same time when we do have that down time, Christmas is an important holiday for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons, myself included. Then you have the Hanukkah season starting and things of that nature, so I think it's important to be mindful of family, to be mindful of how blessed we've been over the last year, professionally, personally. It's definitely a great time to pause and be thankful for that but at the same time, take care of your business.
Q: Can you look at your team's ability to focus on a week where there are distractions as an opportunity to stay even more focused compared to other teams who are facing the same distractions?
MS: I think possibly that can be an advantage for us if we're able to do a little bit extra during the week of preparation, understanding as I said, the season and things of that nature. Hopefully it can be an advantage for us. I can't speak for other teams and what they do and how they prepare, but I know that we've always done a great job of preparing regardless of the situation, and hopefully we can do that again this week.
Q: Does it say something about the way this team is built that you have representatives from offense, defense and special teams selected to the Pro Bowl?
MS: I think as we've seen year in and year out, Coach [Bill] Belichick and his staff have done a great job of building competitive rosters with a lot of depth. We've played through injuries and we've had a lot of different things go on over the course of the last nine seasons that I've been here, but we've always been consistent. We just won our eighth division title. I think that speaks a lot to what Coach Belichick has done and building his roster and I think it speaks a lot to the guys on this team. As you talk about individual awards or acknowledgements, I think it really speaks to the team and the culture on the team because as you strive to be great at something, you have guys around you that push you to become better than even you believe you can be each and every day. I think it speaks a lot to the character and the type of players that we have on this team.
Q: As a captain, do you vocalize the distractions of Christmas week and the idea that you're still not satisfied although you've already clinched the AFC East to your teammates?
MS: I want to make sure we clear something up - Christmas is not a distraction, especially for me with my faith and the way that I try to live my life. It's just a little bit of a different thing this week; we'll put it that way. But as to your question, I think that we need to - I think we all have an understanding that we need to do more. One of our goals, yes, is to win the division, but that's not all we came here to do. I don't think that really needs to be said because the culture is already in place. Coach [Bill Belichick] and his staff have done that. We understand that and we have a lot of work to continue to do to hopefully get to where we want to be. Nobody is complacent; nobody is popping the champagne bottles or anything like that. We're just going to continue to try to improve ourselves so that we can compete at a high level.
Q: Why do you guys do a good job of not letting things like the situation with Michael Floyd distract you?
MS: We do a great job of trying to ignore the noise. There are a lot of things that people will say and do and have opinions on outside of this building and we try to ignore that as best we can because it really has no bearing on who we are and how we go about our daily affairs. We try to block that out as best we can. Obviously, some of it's going to leak in from time to time, but I think Coach [Bill Belichick] does a great job of re-focusing us, living day-to-day and doing what we need to do to take care of our jobs. Hopefully we can do that.
Q: Nate Ebner is tied for the league lead in special teams tackles. For a guy who missed camp, he's doing pretty well.
MS: I can't say enough good things about Nate Ebner, not only from what he's done this year but what he has done over the course of his career. I know for me personally, he has elevated my play because I know that he's going to hold me accountable each and every day to do my job at a high level. Nate has been a great friend to me. He's been kind to my family over the years, and you really appreciate the relationships that you have with guys outside of football. I'm very appreciative of Nate and who he is as a man, what he stands for, and then obviously, professionally, what he's done. I've gone on record saying this, I really feel like he's one of the elite players in this league. If you turn on the film, you definitely see that.
Q: When something like your Pro Bowl selection last night happens, do you receive a call from your dad and talk about the significance of it and how lucky you are as a football family to share that bond?
MS: Certainly, that's a conversation that we had. I don't think we really like to look in terms of what we've accomplished, we really feel like we've been blessed. My dad and I are both men of faith and we realize that we're not self-made men. We've had a lot of things happen over the course of our lives that have allowed us to be in the position that we're in - people pouring into our lives, coaches, friends, our wives, and etcetera. I firmly believe there is no such thing as a self-made man. I'm certainly no different. I have great people that have supported me along the way. I was just a kid that came here with the hopes of making the football team. I still believe that's my mentality every year. I just need to try to make the football team. My dad and I feel like the good Lord has, for whatever reason, given us this platform, this opportunity, and what we're going to do to the best of our abilities is try to make sure people know why we believe we're successful and let people know - you talk about Christmas - what we believe the reason for the season is and proclaiming our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Q: There are a lot of guys on this team who weren't in the national spotlight coming out of college but are now core players on the team. How much of the team culture is a reflection of that?
MS: Certainly. I think we're a team of guys who don't take for granted the opportunity that we have to play in the National Football League. This is not our God-given birth right. As I've said, we've had people along the way and opportunities come up, and we've worked at it certainly, but a lot of people work hard and don't necessarily get the breaks that we've gotten. I think we appreciate that. We appreciate how we got here and I think hopefully that keeps us humble and keeps us hungry to continue to take advantage of the time while we have it.
Q: Does that also play into the mindset that you won a division championship but you're not satisfied?
MS: I think there are two sides to that coin. I think that we are so thankful to have won eight straight division championships. There are a lot of teams that would be hopeful to win one, so we don't just say, 'Hey, that's peanuts.' It's a big deal, but at the same time, we've had a taste of the ultimate goal. A lot of people around here have had that taste. Once you get a taste of it, I think it's something you'll always be tasting. I think every team in this league is chasing the same thing, and we've had some great fortune around here. We do things a certain way but as I said, an injury here, and injury there, the ball bounces that way, who knows what happens.