FOXBOROUGH — Out of the shotgun, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill launched a deep ball intended for Mike Wallace along the right sideline with 13:16 left in Sunday’s game.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty came over and set the ball, volleyball style, for cornerback Marquice Cole, who corralled it and planted both feet on the ground before falling out of bounds. Interception, Patriots.
“Devin made a great break on the ball,” Cole said. “When he jumped up to get it, I saw he wouldn’t get his feet down, but I consciously said, ‘Tip it, tip it.’ I don’t know if he heard me or not, but the ball came down and I got my feet in bounds.”
The Patriots held on for a 27-17 victory at Gillette Stadium after rallying for 24 second-half points.
The game ball was delivered to Cole’s locker as he talked about settling down the game and making adjustments following a brief conversation with coach Bill Belichick.
Belichick said that Cole showed “tremendous awareness” on the play and added that’s something that can’t be taught through coaching or in drills.
“Well, it’s a big play,” Belichick said. “There was still a lot of football left at that point, but it was a huge play. Devin played the ball and Cole showed great presence on the sideline to stay in bounds and catch the ball, then fall out after the catch. That’s as good as an instinctive play as we’ve had around here in a long time. It was just a heads-up play.”
McCourty said the team’s defensive backs regularly practice a tip drill similar to the play he was involved in. But it’s never on the sideline.
“Not like that,” McCourty said. “You don’t expect it to work out like that. You just trust your teammate. When we’re able to play together and get that communication down, you can make plays like that.”
Cole’s demeanor took a turn for the giddy when he admitted he had always wanted to be a part of a tip play during a real game since his late high school/early college years when he saw an Oregon player execute one.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 195-pounder has been battling a hamstring injury that has forced his participation to be limited in practices for most of the season. He said that adversity is a part of the game and he’s motivated to grind through it and do whatever he can to help his team.
One of those things was coming in to replace Kyle Arrington, who left with a groin injury. Cole’s assignment was the dangerous Wallace, but he said it was a matchup he was comfortable with.
“I know the type of receiver he is,” Cole said. “Beaster, big-play guy. Just tried to contain him as much as I could. And the coaches being comfortable enough to put me out there speaks volumes to me.”
He operates on the ideology that any play he makes that helps the team is a big play.
McCourty echoed his teammate and said that the message throughout the locker room is clear: Everyone has to play better. It was particularly in response to a string of key injuries that have left the Patriots shorthanded, especially on defense.
“This team is very mentally tough and it showed up,” McCourty said. “We’ve had things happen this year that we couldn’t see coming and it’s been the next guy up, how do we fight through this.”
Belichick said that despite the losses of captains Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, he has confidence in his defense’s leadership. Versatility of players such as Cole also eases his mind. The 29-year-old has played at the nickel spot inside as well as safety this year.
“He’s a smart guy that’s an instinctive player,” Belichick said. “He doesn’t need a ton of reps out there, he can kind of know what to do in multiple positions as a backup. He’s been very valuable for us in the last couple of years.’’Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @petecapps.