Why a seemingly meaningless season finale meant a lot more for Devin McCourty & this Patriots’ defense

Adam Richins For BSJ

Devin McCourty’s message to his teammates was simple on Sunday afternoon.

For as much as the stakes on paper seemed minuscule for a 6-9 Patriots team on the outside looking in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, McCourty begged to differ.

No, given the circumstances surrounding this Patriots club — one staring at an eventful offseason primed uproot plenty of foundational pieces of this roster — this matinee matchup against the lowly 2-13 Jets was not going to be the listless swan song for a season in which little fell in New England's favor.

Not with this group. And with all that has transpired in a year that brought more adversity than anything one could find out on the gridiron.

"I think everywhere here you looked this week, the game didn't matter. It was meaningless. I just told guys to think about their journey — to have an opportunity to play here, last game of the year," McCourty said of his pregame message to his teammates. "You know you're not going to playoffs. But at some point of your journey, you've been doubted, you got hurt. Certain school told you that they don't want you, a team released you, a team traded. A team told you you wasn't good enough to play. At some point, if someone asked you, would you take an opportunity to play in the last game of the season with no chance at the playoffs? We all would take it and give it everything we got.

"And I told guys to think about that today. If someone told you this is your last ever game to play, what would you do? And I was proud of the way guys responded. But I think guys knew that coming in. Guys already had the right mentality. I'm very fortunate and blessed to give this team different talks and to be a leader on this team. Because it's a lot easier to lead a bunch of guys that don't need much direction, who are ready to go and hungry to learn. I've been very fortunate over the years I've been here to lead the group."

Sure enough, New England's eventual 28-14 victory over the Jets might mean little in the grand scheme of things beyond overall record and draft position — in which a fortuitous rise to the 10th overall pick in the upcoming draft would not be in the cards for the Pats. But for a Patriots defense facing a crossroads in terms of veteran leadership and the next wave in line to supplant them, Sunday's showing served as both a fitting final chapter for some key cogs — and a potential sign of things for a reworked Patriots defense in 2021 and beyond.