FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Football fans see the pageantry of Sundays, the excitement and drama of NFL games.

What they don’t see, however, is everything leading up to those frenetic 60 minutes. The meetings, the weight training, the practices. The, well, drudgery.

“Let’s face it we all get mentally tired,” said Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, on Wednesday. “It’s a long season, it’s a lot of practices, a lot of meetings.”

That’s why bye weeks are so important. The players get away, even if it’s just for a couple of days, to, as linebacker Rob Ninkovich said, “recharge the batteries.”

For defensive back Devin McCourty, the Patriots bye week this year was about more than just relaxing.

His mother Phyllis, you see, lives in Montvale, N.J., a small borough of just under 8,000 people in the northern part of the state.

Montvale took a hit from Superstorm Sandy as it cut across the state, leaving McCourty’s mother without power for a week.

Fortunately for her, the Patriots weren’t playing last week when the storm hit, their flight from London landing at Boston’s Logan Airport hours before the storm closed it down.

Superstorm Sandy slammed into New Jersey on Monday, Oct. 29. Three days later, after the Patriots’ only practice of the bye week, Devin McCourty was on his way to his mother’s house with a generator.

“There wasn’t any flooding,” he said. “It was some power outages. But for the most part there wasn’t a lot of damage.

“I would say they were pretty fortunate.”

He stayed through the weekend to make sure she was safe. And, of course, to enjoy his time off.

“It was definitely nice to be there,” he said. “I enjoy hanging around family. You don’t get much time (to do that) during the season.

“I think that’s the biggest thing that a lot of guys do (during bye weeks). They aren’t about going somewhere. They’re for going home and hanging out with your family and loved ones.”

And taking care of them.

As good as it was for McCourty to have a break from football, it was equally comforting for his mother to have him there with her during that traumatic time.

“We just hung out together,” he said. McCourty returned Sunday night. His mother’s power was restored on Tuesday.

“And I had brought her a generator,” he said. “So it wasn’t too bad.”

Now McCourty, and the other Patriots are back, preparing to play the Buffalo Bills in a pivotal AFC East game at Gillette Stadium here on Sunday.

The Patriots, who admittedly haven’t played well, lead the division with a 5-3 record, including a wild 52-28 win at Buffalo on Sept. 30. A win Sunday will give the Patriots a huge edge in the division race.

Quarterback Tom Brady noted that the team had a “good day of practice” on Tuesday.

Belichick wasn’t surprised.

Players tend to be ready to resume the season when they come back from the bye week.

“We all feel it,” he said.

There’s a higher level, he said, of “attentiveness, energy, receptiveness to new ideas, maybe not new ideas, but new game plans and adjustments.”

It certainly was a light-natured locker room Wednesday. Tight end Aaron Hernandez received hand shakes and congratulations on the birth of his daughter Tuesday. Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon walked through several times with a big smile.

And defensive back Marquice Cole even brought up this writer’s favorite television show.

As we were waiting to talk to McCourty, Cole, McCourty and another player were having a rather serious discussion about something.

Suddenly Cole shouted, “Hey Mike Lowe, you watch Walking Dead?”

(He obviously just picked me out of the crowd, saw my photo ID hanging around my neck, and called my name, but it’s still nice to be noticed).

“Hell yeah,” I said. “Doesn’t everyone?”

“See?” said Cole to McCourty.

Well, McCourty apparently doesn’t watch it. But after talking to him for a while about it, he said he would start.

And then he was off to a meeting. Bye week was over. Time to get back to work.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.