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Devin McCourty, One of the Greatest Patriots of All Time, Officially Retires

Right now I'm kicking myself for not already having this post cued up and ready to go. But I'll forgive myself because 1) I love me. And 2) I was doing some wishful thinking hoping Devin McCourty would come back for at least one more season. He had been talking about it in interviews, describing how he was taking some time to see how he felt, talking it over with his family, and trying to make sure he still had the desire to commit to yet another year in him. Which, like practically everything else he did over the course of his career, was the exact right approach. Today, he leaves no doubt. 

The tributes will come soon enough. They will be ubiquitous. They will be filled with praise. And they will be richly deserved. Here is mine. 

Without lapsing into overstatement, the way we all tend to at a time like this, let me repeat something I've been saying for years. It's not exaggerating in the moment. It's not hyperbole. I can back this up.

Simply put, all things considered, Devin McCourty is the second best Patriots player of the Dynasty Era. 

A few years ago, I was being interviewed and was asked this question. And gave this answer. Nothing that has happened since has changed my mind. I suppose most people's default setting would be Rob Gronkowski. You can certainly make a case for Ty Law. And Richard Seymour. Or get cute and say Adam Vinatieri. Some will be tempted to say Randy Moss, who was otherworldly in his few seasons in Foxboro. Someday soon all four of them will be the Hall of Fame together. But taking all the factors, everything into account, looking at the big picture, my choice was McCourty then, and still is. 

Because he brought it all. Talent. Production. Longevity. Durability. Leadership. Special teams. And the biggest factor of all: Winning. 

Yes, they all won. Though Moss never got a ring. And the 2016 Patriots won Super Bowl LI with Gronk on injured reserve, and Super Bowl LIII when he was a banged-up shell of himself. He toughed it out all season. Played a sort of decoy/third tackle role, while making the biggest catch of the game to set up the only touchdown. All of which is to be admired, and we're eternally grateful. The point is that McCourty was quarterbacking the defense for three of the banners that are hanging over the south endzone at Gillette right now. And without him, we very likely wouldn't have the six that we do. 

Lest we forget how durable he has been, here's a reminder:

His play at the back end, as the primary single high safety in Bill Belichick's defense, allowed them to drop dozens of different strong safeties down into the box and scores of cornerbacks to man up in single coverage, knowing there was someone playing centerfield to prevent disaster. And yet, for all that distance from the line of scrimmage, he is third all time in postseason tackles in NFL history, tied with Tedy Bruschi with 119, and tied with Bobby Wagner for second most postseason solo tackles, with 92. And only 10 men in history have appeared in more postseason games (four of them Patriots, of course).

If I had to pick one great performance by McCourty, I'd be tempted to go with the wild playoff game against the Ravens in the 2014 season. When late in the 3rd quarter and the score tied 28-all, he ended Joe Flacco's streak of going five years without a postseason interception. Then ended the game by breaking up a deep ball intended for Torrey Smith. 

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But great as that was, I'm going with Super Bowl LIII against the Rams. When Jason McCourty came all the way across from the back side of the play to knock the ball away from Brandin Cooks:

And then the NFL Films footage captured Devin on the sidelines before that play coaching his brother to do exactly that if he sees that particular look. And together they both saved the season and earned another ring. In that one, Devin recorded just one tackle and one assist. But as always, he was shop foreman on the greatest defensive performance in Super Bowl history. Not only keeping the 11th-highest scoring offense of all time out of the end zone, but out of the red zone

That's how Devin McCourty has rolled since the day in 2010 that Belichick was getting dragged in the Boston media for taking him in the 1st round out of Rutgers. I can still hear the reaction to GM Bill pointing out his latest member of the Rutgers Mafia was "a four-down player," as the sports radio guys sarcastically called him "a gunnah." Little did they know that gunner would outlast everyone taken after him. And win more. 

This is how we'll always remember him. Right up until he's elect to the Hall at Patriots Place alongside Tom Brady in exactly five years. For this guy, you waive the rule and put in two:

Godspeed. And thanks.