FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sunday's win over the Minnesota Vikings was yet another step in the progression of New England Patriots rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, a first-round draft selection who many wrote off in April as a player whose biggest impact would come on special teams.
McCourty followed up his performance last week against the San Diego Chargers, which included his first career interception, with another solid effort in the Patriots' 28-18 victory that included one of the defensive plays of the game.
In the third quarter, as the Vikings crossed midfield and threatened to erase the Patriots' 14-10 lead, McCourty was in the right place at the right time. He intercepted a pass intended for wide receiver Percy Harvin, who bobbled the football as he fell to the ground.
McCourty took it right out of Harvin's hands, and the complexion of the game changed from there.
"It was a little strange the way he went to catch the ball, I guess he bobbled it a little and I was able to get my hands in there, and then the ball bounced straight in the air so I was able to intercept it," McCourty said.
McCourty returned the pick 37 yards to set up a 13-yard BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown run late in the third quarter.
"[Patriots safety] Brandon [Meriweather] threw a great block on [Vikings running back] Adrian Peterson and let me get to the corner, and then from there I just ran with my eyes," McCourty said.
Earlier in the quarter, McCourty nearly came down with another interception, getting his hands on a deep pass intended for Harvin before landing hard on his helmet. McCourty had to come out of the game, although it was just for one play.
"I caught the ball, and then when I hit the ground my head went first into the turf, so my head was ringing a little," McCourty said. "I was just mad I didn't come down with the ball."
McCourty was slow to get up, but jogged off the field and was examined by athletic trainers on the sideline. After taking one play off, the team deemed him fit to re-enter the game.
"They had to check me out no matter what I said. I felt good once I got back in the game," McCourty said. "As soon as I got back and a play went by, I told them I was all right."
That snapped his streak of playing in every single defensive snap to this point in the season.
"I'm not worried about streaks. I wish I didn't have to come out for a play, but it happens," he said.
The game-changing interception was a sign of McCourty's progress to date, something which the rookie credits to his veteran teammates in the secondary.
"Playing with James [Sanders] and Brandon back there, they know so much that certain times before plays, they'll yell something down to me that will ring a bell to me and then I'll think about something else that will help me out," McCourty said. "I just feel more comfortable. I'm able to see some things now that are coming. Less thinking and just going out there and playing."
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had high marks for his top rookie after the game.
"Devin has done a great job for us. Once again, he came up with big plays today -- several of them," Belichick said. "He helps us in the kicking game. He helps us on defense. He is a good, solid player. He's smart. He learns well. He really can execute the defensive system very consistently. He's been good in man and zone coverage. He tackles well. He's a smart kid and I'm glad we have him."
While Sunday might have been McCourty's time to shine, the defense as a whole was solid, not spectacular, holding the Vikings to 18 points.
"I think that's always a focus of our defense: We want to bend, don't break," McCourty said. "Everybody else worries about stats, we worry about points, and then getting off the field when we can on third down.
"I think our goal is to get better this week, and that's we're doing right now. Each week, we're getting better at something, and coming out and just playing hard."
Mike Rodak is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.