The Patriots were without starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard in Week 16, and virtually without fellow starter Aqib Talib, who played just eight snaps while dealing with a hip issue that had limited him in practice all week.
But fortunately for the team, defensive captain Devin McCourty was ready to step back into his natural position at cornerback and transition from safety, where he has been playing since Week 7 as a result to injuries to both Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory.
On Monday, head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia lauded McCourty for his versatility.
"Devin gives us a lot of flexibility; he's such a versatile guy," Belichick said. "He's an excellent tackler, which makes him a candidate to play inside at safety. Of course, you know about his speed and toughness, good ball skills, and the fact that he can go outside and play competitively in this game, where we needed him, or come inside when we needed him in there at safety and give some stability back there.
"He's so unselfish. He’s well prepared. He's got a good set of skills for either position really, corner or safety," Belichick continued. "He's a total team-first player and I think that’s reflected in the fact that his teammates selected him as a captain in his second year on the team. That’s pretty unusual. That's the way he is; he's very unselfish and does what he needs to do or where he's needed and he does it well. He’s come through for us defensively and in the kicking game in a variety of roles."
Added Patricia, "Certainly Devin being an extremely strong player in our defense is a key cog for us [who] can do that and has that ability. When you’re a player that does that, it’s a very unselfish thing that you’re doing, obviously for the betterment of the team."
"Devin, obviously as a leader and a captain of our defense of our team, understands that and just wants to do whatever he can to help us win and certainly for him to be able to do that and continue to kind of be a multi-faceted player for us is very beneficial for us and a credit to his work and his preparation every week," Patricia said.