Veteran captain Devin McCourty will be one of the most important players on the Patriots defense on Sunday night against the Seahawks. Facing the best deep ball thrower in the league will stress all levels of the Patriots defense, but McCourty and his fellow safeties have perhaps the most important task -- not giving up the long score.
It was something McCourty saw firsthand in 2012, when Russell Wilson connected with Sidney Rice on a 46-yard touchdown to give Seattle the one-point win. Wilson can still make those kind of plays happen now with primary receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
"I think one of the toughest things about this whole group is just speed," said McCourty on Friday prior to the team's departure to Seattle. "Everybody can run. You watch Russell Wilson's ability to buy time and then you're trying to chase Metcalf, you're trying to chase Lockett, you're running from one side of the field to the other side of the field, makes it really tough.
"We can't really have any lapses for a play or two because that can be a 50, 60 or 70-yard touchdown."
2012's fantastic finish was just the start of a rivalry between two of the 2010's best NFL franchises. Super Bowl 49 was one of most climactic and hard-fought championship games in history, while 2016's re-match saw Seattle make a goal-line stand to hand the Patriots a rare post-bye home loss.
"I was just talking to Josh McDaniels about it today, every time we play Seattle it's always been a back-and-forth game," said McCourty. "We know when we play them it's two teams that are not gonna give up, they're going to battle and battle until the end of the game. No matter if you're up or down, it just doesn't change the play of every guy on that field."
Now McCourty returns to the scene of the 2012 crime, but this time without the vaunted 12th Man in the stands. Like the rest of his teammates this week, McCourty acknowledged he'd miss the intense energy that the fans bring.
"I think as athletes, that's what we're used to," said McCourty. "Don't get any of us wrong, it's tough playing in Seattle. Their fans are into it, they know when to yell, they understand the game of football but I also think there's an element of just taking the field and having the energy of the stadium. I think you probably ask both teams, home or away, in any stadium in the NFL, you'd just rather have fans there.
"I think for all of us as players, we can't wait for the opportunity to hopefully, someday this season, we get some amount of fans in every stadium."
How will McCourty help his team tackle their first road trip in the NFL COVID-19 era?
"We talk about veterans kind of giving advice or telling some of the younger guys and rookies how will be, but in so many of these situations it's new for all of us -- the coaching staff, the players," admitted McCourty. "So this will be different.
"We're all navigating this for the first time, taking it in, figuring all that stuff out. I think the good thing is everybody has a good attitude. We know it's for the best for the team, it's the best for our health, [if we want] to continue to have games. I think everyone's bought into that and now it's just getting it done."
The Patriots wrapped up Seahawks week with shorts and shells on the lower field in cloudy and windy conditions with a hint of fall in the air. As was the case on Thursday, only practice squad player Rashod Berry wasn't spotted. Though Josh Uche was listed as a DNP on Thursday, he was again present during stretching drills but was later ruled OUT for the game in Seattle. Matthew Slater also popped up on the injury report, limited with a knee issue.
He joins five others as questionable.
DL Adam Butler (shoulder) - LP
LB Brandon Copeland (knee) - LP
WR Julian Edelman (knee) - LP
WR N'Keal Harry (shoulder) - LP
WR Matthew Slater (knee) - LP
TE Dalton Keene (neck) - LP
LB Josh Uche (ankle) - LP
WebEx Quotes of Note
Stephon Gilmore on the Seahawks weapons:
"Those guys are very explosive. D.K. is very strong, explosive, can make big catches and Lockett is a great receiver too, great speed, good after the catch. They got a great quarterback too so it's gonna be a big challenge for us."
N'Keal Harry on Cam Newton's support after his Week 1 fumble:
"It was a good gesture. As soon as it happened all of the offense really came out to me, they just told me it was one play, just to keep my head up and keep playing."
Sony Michel on his focus:
"It's all about improvement as a team. How can I become a better football player? A good teammate. Doing my job better and I think that's the main focus and that's the only way I can help this team win football games."