Hartford Courant

Dynastic defense comes to an end with recent departures

- By Karen Guregian

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — One by one, the players who made it happen, the players who were instrument­al in keeping the Patriots’ run of championsh­ips alive and kicking during a second decade, have either left or retired.

On Tuesday, the Patriots celebrated one of the last remnants of the club’s dynasty and, specifical­ly, the wave of defensive dominance.

In a ceremony at the Patriots Hall of Fame, Devin Mccourty, a threetime Super Bowl winner, bid adieu. The defensive back, who patrolled the Patriots backfield the past 13 seasons, is headed off to retirement and a new set of challenges.

Meanwhile, in a piece published on The Players’ Tribune, Dont’a Hightower, another prized member of the three-ring club, announced his retirement after spending last year on the sidelines.

While Matthew Slater (three championsh­ips) remains, along with a small group who were part of two championsh­ips, led by center David Andrews and cornerback Jonathan Jones, and a few more with one, it sure seems like that chapter is closing, if not already closed.

After finishing out of the playoffs two of the last three seasons, the Patriots have fallen off the pedestal. There’s a different feel in Foxboro. Championsh­ips seem so far away, as opposed to right around the corner. It’s as much about the quarterbac­k question as it is the defense.

Speaking with Mccourty after the ceremony, however, he wasn’t willing to shut the door so quickly.

“I think (the run can continue). I think it just looks different. There’s different guys,” he said. “They have a good group now, and I think it’ll continue to grow the next couple of years.”

Time will tell.

It took Mccourty’s group awhile, with a 10-year “drought” between the franchise’s third and fourth titles, but the Patriots were able to ring up three more in 2014, 2016 and 2018. In all three years, Mccourty’s defense dominated for long stretches.

During his remarks at the ceremony, Mccourty said it was obvious when he arrived in town, that “everything was about winning.” And if that wasn’t your philosophy, it was quickly adapted. The Patriots had three Lombardi’s in the bank, and it was obvious from the players in the room, they wanted more. They expected more, especially with Brady still at the helm. And they delivered. “I’m just grateful I got an opportunit­y to get drafted here,” said Mccourty, a first-round pick out of Rutgers. “(Brother Jason) used to always make fun of me, and say, ‘You’re not a better player than me. You just got drafted where Tom Brady was, and Coach Belichick.’ And, it’s the truth. The journey I got to experience here was one of a kind.”

Will Mac Jones, Rhamondre Stevenson, Tyquan Thornton, Jack Jones, Christian Barmore, Kyle Dugger and Marcus Jones get to experience the same? Will they get to experience that kind of winning?

It largely depends on the personnel Bill Belichick drafts around his quarterbac­k and on defense. When Mccourty was drafted in 2010 in the first round, he arrived with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The year before, Julian Edelman, Patrick Chung and Sebastian Vollmer entered the picture.

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