FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Jason McCourty has taken longer than usual to do things around the Patriots practice facility this week as he’s prepared for their divisional playoff matchup with the Chargers.
He’s been one of the first to arrive at breakfast with his teammates. He’s lingered in meetings and often been one of the last players to make it off the field following workouts. Whatever the task, he has savored it.
That’s because McCourty’s about to do something he’s never done during his NFL career: play meaningful football in January.
In his nine previous seasons — eight in Tennessee and one in Cleveland — McCourty was never on a playoff team. Drafted by the Titans in 2009, the defensive back only got close to the postseason twice as a member of 9-7 Tennessee teams in 2011 and 2016.
He signed with the Browns in 2017, only to suffer through a winless season before being dealt to the Patriots.
This season has brought a list of firsts: his first division title, his first week of playoff practices and on Sunday, his first postseason game.
“I’m enjoying every moment,” McCourty said. “Typically, I’ve already flown home or doing whatever I’m doing for the offseason. I’m definitely trying to savor each and every moment.”
The move to New England has been a career refresher in other ways. First, it reunited him with his twin brother, safety Devin McCourty, whom he hadn’t played with since they starred at Rutgers. It’s also given Jason his first realistic chance to appear in a Super Bowl, something he and Devin dreamed about during their Pop Warner days.
Devin, who won rings with the Patriots after the 2014 and 2016 seasons, has been Jason’s biggest mentor and fan.
The twins are separated by only a single stall in the locker room and are typically only a few feet apart at the facility. They do a weekly segment with a Boston TV station and are active members of the NFL Players Coalition.
They also share a Twitter account and have a YouTube show called “Double Trouble,” which they use to promote social justice causes and their sickle cell awareness initiative.
Devin was a rookie on New England’s 2010 team that went 14-2 but lost to the Jets in the divisional round. He said he wants to ensure his brother’s first playoff experience doesn’t end the same way.
“There’s no more, ‘My bad,’ or ‘I’ll get that next time,'” Devin said. “Ten years in the NFL, not tasting the playoffs, I think he probably realizes that more than any of us. He knows it’s not guaranteed and it doesn’t happen all the time.”
Jason says in some ways the past few weeks have made him feel like a rookie again.
“I joked with a lot of guys after every win, I was probably the loudest guy in here yelling and celebrating just because of what it means,” he said.
Jason arrived in New England in March as part of a collection of defensive backs the Patriots signed to help fortify the secondary following the departure of cornerback Malcolm Butler, who signed with Tennessee.
Jason wound up starting 12 games at left cornerback after Eric Rowe went on injured reserve in October with a groin injury. He also contributed on special teams.
Jason’s lone interception of the season came late in the Patriots’ 24-12 win over Buffalo last month, which secured New England’s 10th straight AFC East title.
“I think his leadership, his communication, his professionalism has been outstanding,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Been great to work with. Couldn’t ask for any more.”
As proud as Devin is of his brother, he said their mother, Phyllis Harrell, might be more excited than both of them. She used to wear a custom half-Patriots, half-Titans jersey on game days. She updated it to a half-blue, half-white Patriots jersey this season honoring her sons.
“I’ve won Super Bowls and all, but I think the thing she’s most wanted in our (NFL career) is Jason playing in the playoffs,” Devin said. “I’m sure she’ll be fired up to see him play in his first playoff game. She said that over and over, she just wanted him to get some type of success that I’ve had as far as the playoffs, the post-regular season, as far as the atmosphere. The McCourty gang will be pretty fired up Sunday.”
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