The New England Patriots enjoyed a bye last weekend for the ninth year in a row, but will soon enter the NFL’s postseason tournament: on Sunday, the fifth-seeded Los Angeles Chargers will visit Foxboro for a divisional playoff game. For most of the roster, this is nothing new: 31 members of the team’s current 53-man roster were in the same position last year, with seven more either on injury reserve lists on the practice squad.
But despite the Patriots again being in the postseason and again entering as a top-two seed in the AFC, there is still excitement in the locker room’s air. “It’s exciting,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who has three postseason games on his résumé, told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s the first playoff game. You’ve got to go out and play good football. They’ve got a good football team so we have to do whatever it takes to win.
Gilmore was one of the Patriots’ top performers during last year’s postseason run, and with a talented Chargers offense coming to town more high level play will be needed out of him. The same has to be said about the other members of New England’s secondary, among them a cornerback who has yet to appear in a playoff game despite being in his tenth season in the NFL: Jason McCourty.
“I’m excited but you’d have to ask me after the game Sunday how I handled it,” the first-year Patriot said. “I can’t say right now it’s much different for me from the standpoint of coming in here, getting my work done, getting in the tubs, going home, hanging out with the kids and then watching film. It’ll be the same exact Wednesday but I probably woke up a little bit more excited this Wednesday than I did two Wednesdays ago when we were just heading into a regular season game.”
McCourty’s career arc up to this point is certainly a unique one. He started with a Tennessee Titans team that failed to make the postseason in his eight years there, and later joined the infamous 0-16 Cleveland Browns. Earlier this offseason, McCourty was traded to New England — and to join his twin brother: Devin McCourty has appeared in 19 postseason contests so far during his career, winning two Super Bowl rings in the process.
But Jason, the slightly younger of the two McCourty brothers, knows that it is just another week at the office for him and his teammates — despite what is at stake on Sunday. “I’m just taking it day-by-day,” McCourty said on Wednesday. “ I can’t say I’m nervous at this point. [...] I think obviously at this time of the year, you just realize, hey, if things don’t go the way we want on Sunday, we come here Monday and we pack our stuff.”
Fellow defender Trey Flowers shared a similar sentiment. “One play at a time, one game at a time,” the 25-year old pointed out. “I don’t get too high as far as all the possibilities, as far as looking forward into the future, things like that. Obviously, I’ve been a part of the ultimate goal and on the opposite end of it as well. So just kind of take it one game at a time, one season at a time. This is a whole different season.”
But despite his focus being on the task at hand, Flowers is still sharing his teammates’ feelings about entering the playoffs. “It’s definitely exciting,” he said. “It’s one of those things you can’t take for granted. Obviously, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this organization and be in this situation since I’ve been in the league but it’s one of those things [...] there’s only eight teams left. Not a lot of guys get this opportunity so you can’t take it for granted.”
“There’s eight teams left and we’re still playing,” added wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who also joined the Patriots last year and unlike Flowers has yet to win a Super Bowl ring. “That’s exciting for me because I love just going out there every day and playing and obviously playing for something that’s more than the regular season, playing for the chance to be able to keep going, keep playing. It’s definitely exciting.”
The word exciting was also used by another member of the Patriots’ offense, one that has two championship rings at home. “It’s an exciting time of year, just try to live in the moment, don’t take the opportunity for granted,” said James White, who delivered one of the greatest postseason performances in history during his team’s epic 25-point comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl two years ago.
White also knows that New England needs to stay focused through all the excitement of the postseason. “Just don’t want to have any regrets and you’ve just got to put your best foot forward not just on game day, [but] from today throughout the rest of the week,” the 27-year old said. “High intensity, pay attention to the little details, watch as much film as possible, try and know your opponent as much as possible if you want to come out with a win on Sunday.”
The running back knows what it feels like to win in the postseason: the Patriots came away victoriously in six of the eight contests in which he actually appeared in — but that also means that he suffered two losses. And to avoid another one this week, White knows what has to be done. “It’s going to take a lot of effort in all aspects of the game,” he said. “Definitely have fun but at the same time, it’s just a game at the end of the day — but you want to have your best effort.”