By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots, at the very least, make the postseason. More often than not, they’re playing in late January with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Not this year, though. With Tom Brady’s departure weakening an already-thin offensive unit and with a number of COVID opt-outs softening up the defense, and with a rather difficult schedule, the Patriots find themselves at 6-7, waiting for official word that a trip to the playoffs will not be coming at the end of this season.
For someone like Devin McCourty, who played in either a Super Bowl or conference title game in eight of his first nine NFL seasons, it’s new territory. But the 10-time team captain said that after losing to the Rams last week and a trip to Miami scheduled for Sundasy, he plans to go about his business this week the only way he knows how.
“It’s been the same. You play Thursday, got the weekend off, so a lot of time to get away for a couple days and kind of refocus. But it’s been work as usual,” McCourty said on Wednesday. “As disappointing as Thursday was, we still have to realize that we got three games left and nothing else matters other than what we do out there on the field. That starts with Sunday. So trying to put our best foot forward and trying to get a tough win on the road against a team who’s also trying to continue to win and hoping their season continues. So we’re going to have to battle and be ready to go across the board as a team.”
While the Patriots’ chances of making the playoffs sit somewhere around 4 percent, another veteran on the defense — Adrian Phillips — said that the team will continue to operate as if the postseason remains a possibility.
“It’s not over until it’s over for us,” Phillips said. “And it is a division opponent, and we do want to beat them, and we want to end with the best record possible. That’s mainly our mindset, just end with the best record possible,” Phillips said. “Just go out there, we’ve got three games left, go out there and win them. You never know what can happen around the league, but just do our part and just end the best way that we can. So it starts with Miami, and you can’t start thinking about the other two games, or the outside noise, or the possibility of you going to the playoffs. Because when you do, man, you just mess up your chances that week, because you’re worried about all the outside noise.”
Phillips added: “I’ve been in this position a few times and it’s always the same message, just control what you can control and let the chips fall where they may.”
McCourty, who’s 33 years old and has contemplated retirement in past years, said that despite the Patriots’ current record, the opportunity to play in an NFL game remains as convincing a reason to play hard and enjoy the game as anything else.
“I always tell you guys, the first thing I can give you is from my personal perspective, and my time’s going to be limited in this league. So in my 11th year, I’m not going to take any game for granted, no matter what happens the rest of this season,” McCourty said. “I think as an older guy, we all have that approach, and we’re going to pass that down through this locker room.”
The messaging from the players of course comes from the top. And while the idea of the Patriots losing games on purpose to secure a better draft pick might make for good conversation on sports talk radio, it doesn’t seem to be something that Bill Belichick would ever fathom.
“Well, look, all the external things that we can’t control, there’s no point in worrying about those,” Belichick said this week. “We’re going to focus on our preparations for Miami and try to put together the best game plan and preparation that we can to go down to Miami and win. So, that’s what we’re focused on.”