Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 10/21/12
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Devin McCourty nearly fumbled away a win on Sunday night, literally. But without McCourty in the lineup, the Patriots would have never been in a position to win anyway. McCourty had as eventful a day as you could expect from nearly any player in the NFL on Sunday, both good and bad. But in the end, it was the good that outweighed all else as McCourty played a major role in the Patriots' 29-26 overtime win. After the Jets kicked a field goal with just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 23-23, the onus turned to Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense to pull out a win. But the ball would never even reach Brady. On the ensuing kickoff, McCourty had the ball stripped from his arms giving New York a great field position and a prime opportunity to throw the knockout punch. Fortunately, a field goal would be all the Jets could manage. But it still left the Patriots down three points with less than two minutes to play. The offense bailed McCourty out as the Patriots were able to counter the adversity with one of Brady's classic late game drives to tie the game as time expired. McCourty was devastated by the turnover, but was relieved by the offense's ability to make up for his careless mistake. "My teammates saved my life today," McCourty said with a relieved smirk on his face after the game. "A bad mistake in the fourth quarter, I just have to do a better job holding onto the ball. This was just a total team win we just kept fighting." McCourty's blunder clearly leaves a stain, but without his play the Patriots also wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to win. McCourty rode quite an emotional rollercoaster on kickoffs on Sunday. The fumble obviously sticks out most as it came at such a crucial point in the game, but it was McCourty's elusive speed and elite return skills that also saw him take a kick 104 yards back to the house in the first quarter. The sensational return gave the Patriots a much-needed spark, but McCourty wouldn't take credit for the effort. "I'm a big part of that kickoff return team and I think my teammates did a great job," McCourty said. "Because on that touchdown no one touched me and I just have to work on my responsibility and that's holding onto the ball." That first quarter score is what first got the Patriots on the board and helped alleviate some of the pressure created by the Jets early lead. McCourty's impact was felt beyond the return game, though. His versatility and leadership on defense was even more important. McCourty, who normally is the Patriots top cover cornerback, filled in at safety in the absence of the injured Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory on Sunday. He played well in the role -- as he did at times in 2011 -- and was able contain some of the Jets' big pass plays over the top of the defense. Bill Belichick understood the importance of the return but also knew how vital his ability to change positions was for the defense. "The kickoff return was a big play; it got us going," Belichick said. "He’s a solid guy, he does a good job for us. Whatever he’s asked to do, he does a good job for us." The Patriots secondary struggled once again, even against Mark Sanchez and a hodgepodge of mediocre receivers. But McCourty was one of the lone exceptions, and his willingness to fill that void at safety proved important in the defense finding the little success they did. "With Chung and Gregory both out, we felt like we had to do something back there at safety. Devin has some experience back there. I thought he did a pretty solid job from what I could see," Belichick said. "I thought the deep part of the field was more secure than it's been." Belichick's praise doesn't come cheap, and McCourty's success both in the return game and on defense far outweighed the harm his fumble caused. The gaffed return may be what is remembered about McCourty's performance, but it shouldn't be. McCourty's leadership and unselfishness were what truly stuck out most in the win, and he once again proved just how valuable he is for this Patriots team. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
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