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TARA SULLIVAN

Here’s why this Patriots’ AFC East crown is the best one ever for Devin McCourty

Devin McCourty (left) and brother Jason get to celebrate their success on the same pro team for the first time.
Devin McCourty (left) and brother Jason get to celebrate their success on the same pro team for the first time. (Associated Press)

FOXBOROUGH — First game of the season, the Patriots beat up on the Texans, and the McCourty family celebration is on.

Or so you would think.

Newly minted Patriot Jason McCourty looked at his mom and could tell something was up.

Phyllis Harrell, otherwise known as Mama McCourty after her story of raising twins Jason and Devin to become NFL stars captivated the football world, was unusually reserved in the wake of New England’s 27-20 win. Here were her sons, back on the field together, back in the same uniform for the first time since college, back as teammates after nine years apart, and even better, playing for the most dominant NFL roster of the past two decades. But her nerves still jangled. Because here was Devin, soaring yet again, a Patriots team captain and vital cog in their defense. And here was Jason, newly acquired via offseason trade, on the field for only five snaps.

Would this ever work?

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“As excited as we were winning the game, my mom didn’t know how to feel because I only played five plays in the game,” Jason said. “I remember coming home and she didn’t really want to celebrate and I remember my wife [Melissa] saying during the game she didn’t even really enjoy it because she just was concerned.”

A day later, the 31-year-old longtime Tennessee Titan and one-year Cleveland Brown made it a point to catch her alone. “I’m like, ‘Mom, I’m OK,’ ” he told her. “Whether I play five plays or 55 plays, I’m having fun.”

Fifteenth game of the season, the Patriots beat up on the Bills, and the McCourty family celebration is on.

You better believe it.

Because here the McCourty brothers are now, Devin clinching a ninth straight AFC East title in nine career seasons, Jason clinching the first playoff appearance in 10, the former happy for himself but even happier for the latter. In the interim, Jason emerged as just as integral a piece of the Patriots’ defense, his veteran skills showing up on the field (an interception and a forced fumble against Buffalo), his veteran presence showing up in the locker room (mentoring young defensive backs such as J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen), leaving their mother thrilled beyond words for the story that has unfolded before her.

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As her boys continue to author such a special concluding chapter to their unlikely childhood dream, as they follow their side-by-side success back at New Jersey’s St. Joseph Regional High School and in the defensive backfield at Rutgers University with this one-year convergence in New England, as they head toward the postseason chasing the same Super Bowl dream, her cup runneth over.

“This whole season been a little nervous for me, them both on the same team,” Harrell said this past week from Jason’s home, where she’d been visiting for the previous six days, and from which she planned to walk across the street and spend the next six days at Devin’s home, before returning to her home in New York. “I was at the [Buffalo] game, sitting there with Jay’s wife and Dev’s wife, and when we realized we’re winning, winning the division, it was just fantastic.”

The aftermath would melt the heartiest of New England’s winter snow, Jason’s absolute delight in donning that elusive hat and T-shirt, Devin’s pure joy in his brother’s forced fumble and interception, all of it a testament to brothers whose shared DNA is but a path to a genuine friendship, forged since they shared a crib.

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“I think it meant a lot, just to see two guys who have really, really similar attributes, how great those guys are, selfless, really are the same, but how one career has gone one way and one career went the other way,” teammate Duron Harmon said, citing knowledge since shared days at Rutgers. “You see J-Mac always up here supporting Dev in the playoffs, coming to the Super Bowl, for him to have a shot to play in the playoffs, and for him to get that feeling of winning the division, it was special to both of them. It’s something a lot of people can’t say they did, sharing this success. Being in the league, getting to the league is great enough, but playing championship-level football and doing it together is a great story for both of them.”

Yet as much as this is what everyone wanted, there were no guarantees, not of another title, not even that Jason would find a path out of Devin’s long New England shadow, separate from the one Patriot who consistently makes Bill Belichick gush.

“I was a little concerned about that in the beginning, because I didn’t know how Jason would fit in on the team, how it would turn out,” Harrell said. “Seeing them together, they’re just so happy. It takes me back to the time when they started out playing football and knew that’s what they wanted to do, to play together. Watching them this year has been special. I wanted them both to do well. Not taking anything away from Devin, but he’s been there. I was just so rooting and praying for Jay, it would be his first time, he’s getting older and probably towards the end of his career.

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“It was just unbelievable. It really was. I’ve just been rooting since Day One they would get here together.”

Back in the offseason, fresh off Jason’s arrival, the whole family was together on a shopping spree at the pro shop, where mom could properly prepare her game-day attire. Jason had already bargained with Harmon to acquire the No. 30 (a sizable pro shop gift card and plenty of cash to replace all previous Harmon attire and collectibles with new versions in No. 21) alongside Devin’s familiar No. 32. Phyllis purchased one of each McCourty jersey. But rather than alternate them on game days, she remade them to her own custom order, cutting each in half, sewing them together, and bedazzling them.

“Many days of gluing and sticking,” she laughed.

From there to here, worth every minute.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.