FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Safety Devin McCourty and tight end Rob Gronkowski were the New England Patriots' first two selections in the 2010 draft, and both reflected on their rookie seasons this week with a painful memory.
As the Patriots prepare for Saturday's divisional-round playoff game against the Tennessee Titans, in the role of heavy favorite, McCourty and Gronkowski recalled being in a similar situation in their first year with the team. They were hosting the New York Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs, coming off a bye, and few media analysts predicted they would lose.
That game -- with Mark Sanchez outdueling Tom Brady -- was brought up by both players this week as a reminder of how earning a first-round playoff bye means little if the team doesn't play well and capitalize on it.
Said Gronkowski: "We [don't] take it for granted at all. We put the hard work in, we put the dedication in and we know what it takes to get to that level. Now that we’re there, you can’t take your foot off the gas pedal. I’ve seen it happen before. It’s happened while I’m on the team here before and you’ve just got to keep working hard. You can’t think, ‘Oh, we’re here. We made it. We’re in the playoffs. Everything is going to be easy.’ No, it gets harder, it gets tougher, it gets more physical, mentally and physically. You’ve just got to prepare and keep on working hard and keep on grinding."
McCourty, when asked about the Patriots earning a first-round playoff bye in eight straight seasons, took it one step further.
"For us to go out there and earn a first-round bye since I’ve been here has been great. I think we’ve learned how to work and play well off of it, but I think we’ve always learned that it doesn’t mean automatically that we’re going to win," he said. "You know, my rookie year we came out and lost in the divisional [round], first playoff game. So, I think it’s using the time wisely and then always understanding that home field and bye week, none of that stuff guarantees you a win coming out. You’ve still got to go out there and earn it. So, I think the experience of being in that position has helped us to know what we need to do and trying to use that experience to the best of our ability, and I think that helps and hopefully it pays off Saturday."
The Patriots practiced Thursday afternoon and will hold a standard day-before-the-game walk-through practice on Friday.