2018 AFC Playoffs

Patriots Notebook: Devin McCourty back at practice, Philip Rivers recalls fiery Pro Bowl experience with Bill Belichick

(Adam Richins/Boston Sports Journal)

FOXBOROUGH -- Good news for the Patriots, as veteran defensive back Devin McCourty was back on the field at the start of Wednesday's practice. McCourty, who sustained a head injury near the end of the regular-season finale against the Jets, did not practice at all during the bye week. But he was back on the field Wednesday afternoon. In addition, Cordarrelle Patterson -- who sustained a knee injury neat the end of a win over the Bills late last month and missed the Jets game -- was also on the field.

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So here the complete injury report for Wednesday.

No great surprises for New England. Good to see McCourty back, even though he was limited. Wise's ankle is a new issue -- it'll be interesting to see if it limits him at all the rest of the way.

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Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is a fiery guy, but he met his match at the 2011 Pro Bowl. That year, Bill Belichick was serving as the head coach of the AFC team, and they were getting crushed -- the NFC went up 42-0 after two quarters. On Wednesday, Rivers, a member of that AFC team, recalled Belichick's halftime speech.

“We were getting killed, and it was … me, Peyton (Manning) and (Matt) Cassel,” Rivers said. “We were getting blown out at halftime, and he kind of called (the whole team) up and said, ‘Hey, we can tackle. I know it’s the Pro Bowl and all that, but can we tackle somebody today? Let’s go out and see if we can make this a little bit respectable in the second half.’

“And then he looked at us quarterbacks. We had all thrown an interception — thank goodness I wasn’t the only one — and he said, “And it’d help if you guys would stop throwing it to the other team.’

“I got a kick out of that because I was standing by Peyton Manning and Cassel, and Peyton’s, if not my all-time favorite, one of. I was glad I was the only one that had thrown it to the other team. But I thought that was pretty good. I got (cussed) out at halftime of the Pro Bowl.”

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Here are a few of the highlights from Wednesday’s Q&A with Belichick:

What are your thoughts on how Philip Rivers has played this year?
“He’s played great. He plays great. Very accurate, obviously a smart guy, offense runs through him, handles things at the line of scrimmage, makes good decisions with the ball, uses everybody, as he always does – he gets the ball to everybody, all of the receivers, all the tight ends, all the backs. He’s very, very efficient, makes big plays, good in situations – third down, red area. He’s really good, outstanding. Hard guy to tackle, big, strong guy, has a good feel for the pocket, knows how to use his blockers, kind of like [Ben] Roethlisberger – same type of thing. He’s good.”

You played Rivers a bunch early in his career. What has his evolution been like from then to now?
“He’s good. He’s really good. So, look, he’s played in different systems and so forth, but right now he’s playing extremely well, again with a good offensive team, good offensive system with Coach [Anthony] Lynn, Coach [Ken] Whisenhunt. They’re a good football team. He does a great job of orchestrating and running the offense.”

Towards the end of the regular season, how has their run defense held up despite the lighter front?
“Yeah, well, they’re fast. All those guys are fast, so they pursue well. The defensive line’s very disruptive, they have a good front, those guys make a lot of plays. It’s hard to get the linebackers, whether it was whoever it’s been in there, and they played, I don’t know, about six, seven linebackers this year. But, it’s a problem getting to them because their front has been so effective. It’s hard to get past those guys up front.”

Other than the obvious physical traits, what makes Melvin Gordon so special?
“Yeah, he’s big, strong, fast, got good vision, he’s hard to tackle, he’s got good patience, uses his blockers well. He’s got good speed so he can attack from sideline to sideline, but he gets downhill, he’s tough in line, he’s a tough guy to tackle. He’s got breakaway speed, he’s got home run ability, so he’s had a bunch of big plays – some in the running game, some in the passing game, screen passes, check-down routes, end routes. So, whenever he gets the ball, it doesn’t really matter how he gets it once he gets it. All their backs are a problem. They have good backs – good depth at that position. Sometimes they play two of them in the game. Usually it’s just one, but sometimes they have them both in there, or have two of the three in there – their halfbacks. I mean, the fullback, too, but the two or three halfbacks and just another way to attack the defense, put more good players on the field.”

How do they use Antonio Gates? Obviously, he’s getting less snaps.
“Yeah, he’s in there in most critical situations – third down, red area, some second-down situations, occasionally on first down. But, really, I’d say the more important the situation, more of a possession play it is, probably more he’s going to be in there.”

He doesn’t look particularly fast. What allows him to get open?
“He’s quick, he’s got great route savvy, he’s got obviously outstanding hands and size. He knows how to body guys up well – he can get on one side of them, Rivers throws it on the other side. A lot of third-down conversations, red area touchdowns. But, he’s a slick route runner. He’s very crafty, does a good job stemming the defenders, he’s got good quickness at the top of the routes to separate and he’s pretty good after the catch. He can make guys miss with the ball in his hands. He’s still pretty effective.”

More updates throughout the afternoon...