FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As is often said, it’s better to be lucky than good.
That’s precisely what Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty experienced as he corralled a late interception to preserve his team’s lead in a 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday in an AFC East showdown.
With roughly 30 seconds remaining in regulation and the Bills facing second-and-10 from the Patriots’ 15-yard line, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick wound up for a throw intended for receiver T.J. Graham in the end zone that would have given Buffalo the lead, pending the extra point.
But an apparent communication breakdown left Graham nowhere near the throw, and the pass landed right in McCourty’s hands just about a yard into the end zone. He took a knee and allowed his offense to drain the clock thereafter.
“That was one of those 'right place, right time' moments right there,” McCourty said after the game. “The ball [was] thrown right to me, so just making the catch and ending it was my focus at that time.”
Based on the alignment of Bills tight end Scott Chandler, McCourty sensed a throw could be heading toward the middle of the field.
“At that time in the game, you know it could come really anywhere,” he said. “You just try to focus on where the guys are that they like to throw to with [Scott] Chandler being a big target in the middle of the field and Stevie Johnson. Chandler lined up right in the middle so I knew it was a good chance it could be some type of play in the middle of the field. Right there he just threw it and I happened to be right there.”
The play was another instance of the Patriots’ defense forcing a timely turnover. McCourty was asked what has made his defense so capable of forcing those turnovers late in the game.
“That’s a good question. I think it’s just the guys’ awareness,” he said. “Our guys are fully aware of wherever the ball is. Whether it’s in coverage and the ball is in the air or if a guy is holding the ball, we’re trying to get it out. We almost got one out at the end too with [Brandon] Spikes’ big hit on [Fred] Jackson. So guys just have an awareness of the ball and trying to get to it.”
As has been the case all season, turnovers remain a primary focus for McCourty and the defense.
“We know no matter what happens in the game, there’s nothing bigger than turnovers,” he said. “I think throughout any level of football, turnovers are always a big part. A lot of times if you can just win that turnover ratio, you end up winning the game. We know each game we have to go out and win the turnover ratio. No matter what happens in the game, we have to come out on top with the turnover ratio.”
McCourty's interception helped bail out another porous defensive effort from the Patriots in terms of yards allowed, as it surrendered 481 to the Bills.
McCourty said he and his defensive teammates will use the film from Sunday to study and improve.
“Like any other game, we have to go work on the things we need to work on,” he said. “We’ll break the film down. We still have seven more games to go and it’s all going to depend on how good and how well we improve over this time. If we can keep improving all the way down to the end of the season and string good games together and string wins together, we’ll be in good shape.”