ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Devin McCourty and the Patriots’ defense had a good idea of what was coming.
The Bills were driving, trailing, 18-6, with about six minutes left Monday night. It was third and 15 at the New England 30 yard line, and Buffalo’s formation tipped off McCourty and fellow safety Patrick Chung.
Quarterback Derek Anderson dropped back, looking for tight end Charles Clay, and let it rip. But McCourty jumped the route at the 16, wheeled around to the sideline, and ran it back 84 yards for a touchdown, finishing the Bills for a 25-6 win. It was McCourty’s first career pick-6.
“It was a couple options, and just trying to bait him into the throw a little bit and then just reading the quarterback and going to get the ball,” McCourty said.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained further: “Clay kind of got inside of Pat and Pat had help, so he kind of pushed him over to Devin. Devin did a nice job of hiding it and breaking on the ball and really ran fast down the sideline. He was moving. It was a good run, good interception return.”
On the return, the veteran reached a top speed of 22.05 miles per hour, the fastest speed a ball carrier has reached in the NFL this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
“It was just cool because once I got to the sideline, all the guys were all over it, telling me about it,” McCourty said. “I’m not really worried about me losing a step. I just go out there and play and today got to showcase a little bit of the speed, so, 31 [years old], hopefully I can hold onto that speed a little while longer.”
The wind was a challenge for the Patriots. Belichick said the team figured during warmups it would be a factor, but after a Tom Brady throw sailed over Rob Gronkowski’s head on the first drive, it became clear how much it would play a role.
“It was an element that we’ve certainly dealt with,” Belichick said. “We’ve practiced on a lot of windy days out there in Foxborough, so we’ve been there before, but it was still challenging.”
Brady called the wind “weird” and said the “ball was moving weird.”
“It was almost like a knuckleball to the receiver,” he said. “When the ball’s up in the air, there was a couple that the ball was moving in the air, but it wasn’t terrible. I’ve played in worse.”
Good to go
Despite a report from the NFL Network that he’d be benched for the first few series of the game as discipline for a tardiness issue, wide receiver Josh Gordon started for the Patriots.
The report, which came out hours before the game, said Gordon would sit for about the first quarter. As it turned out, Gordon played multiple snaps on the first drive of the game.
If reports claiming Gordon showed up late to Gillette Stadium on Sunday before the team departed for Buffalo, and that he was also late to a meeting last week are true, the Patriots decided to handle the discipline in private.
“That’s a question you have to ask Coach about,” said Gordon after he made four catches for 42 yards. “But in relation to the game, I was available, so that’s a plus.”
Belichick had nothing to add.
“Yeah, I don’t know, you’d have to talk to whoever wrote that. I have no idea,” he said.
The Patriots have praised Gordon’s attitude and work ethic since he arrived in Foxborough via trade from Cleveland Sept. 18. That said, Gordon’s split with the Browns was due to several factors, most of them most of them because the team couldn’t count on him.
Gordon showed up late to a team meeting Sept. 16, reportedly one of the final straws that led the Browns to move him.
The Patriots have been linked to several receivers ahead of the Tuesday trading deadline. Still, Gordon has looked to be a steal, capable of playing a top receiver’s role.
“For him to play the role that he’s played is a credit to him, what he’s been doing and what his routine here has been,” Brady said Saturday. “I know he’s got a lot of great support, and everyone wants to see him do as well as he possibly can.”
Gordon came in averaging 17.2 yards per catch for the Patriots. He had his first 100-yard game as a Patriot last week.
The Patriots coaches, Belichick in particular, place a premium on punctuality and have handed down discipline in these kinds of situations before. Belichick benched running back Jonas Gray for oversleeping and showing up late to a practice in 2014 and sent receiver Randy Moss and linebackers Adalius Thomas, Gary Guyton, and Derrick Burgess home after they arrived late to a meeting in 2009.
The Patriots have taken some preemptive measures intended to keep Gordon on track. His locker is next to Brady’s, and he has been spending a lot of time with Jack Easterby, the team’s character coach.
A surprising scratch for the Patriots was linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who was limited in practice all week because of a knee injury. This may have been a night when the Patriots felt they could err on the side of caution against a struggling opponent. It is the first game Hightower missed this season. The seven-year veteran missed out on a $54,687.50 roster bonus by being inactive . . . Belichick opened his postgame news conference by congratulating the Red Sox on winning the World Series. “Just a fabulous year. They set the bar awfully high,” he said . . . Gronkowski, who is dealing with a sore back and sore ankle, caught three passes for 43 yards. He did not travel with the team to face the Bears last week, and was listed as limited in practice leading up to the Buffalo game . . . Julian Edelman recorded his first 100-yard performance of the season, reeling in nine passes for 104 yards. He did a lot of damage over the middle. “He played good,” Brady said. “He’s got such great awareness and instincts in the middle part of the field, and he made some other plays tonight for us, blocks a lot, does a lot of dirty work and it’s just great having him on there.” . . . Brady is 3 rushing yards away from reaching 1,000 for his career after an 8-yard run for a first down. “It’s a hard thing for me to do. Instinctually, I just don’t think that fast decision to go, but when I do, I can make a couple yards.” . . . Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (concussion) was inactive for the second straight week. Defensive lineman Geneo Grissom (ankle), cornerback Eric Rowe (groin), guard Brian Schwenke (foot), and tight end Jacob Hollister (hamstring) were also inactive for New England . . . Quarterback Danny Etling (practice squad), linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (injured reserve), and cornerback Duke Dawson (injured reserve) all made the trip to Buffalo. The trio of rookies worked out on the field together about two hours before kickoff. Belichick said on a conference call last week that the team decides “on a case-by-case basis” whether injured players or non-active players travel. “It would depend on the player and the situation and so forth. What their role is in the game and that type of thing. There’s a lot of things that would go into consideration,” he said. “Clearly I think there’s a benefit for us and a benefit for them or we probably wouldn’t do it.”