Browns Patriots Football

New England Coach Bill Belichick applauds his players in a game against Cleveland in November. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For over a decade, Devin McCourty has been served as one of Bill Belichick’s captains. Few players know the Patriots coach better than his veteran safety.

Belichick has been seen smiling and joking quite a bit in the team’s postgame videos during New England’s six-game winning streak, and on Wednesday afternoon, McCourty was asked whether he’s noticed anything different about him this season. McCourty joked that maybe the media has seen more smiles from him, but he’s been the same person behind the scenes: A guy that just really likes his job.

“My 12 years here, I think that’s one thing that has always stood out: How much he enjoys coaching the team,” McCourty said. “Even last year, obviously the worst year of my career, I’ve always felt like he doesn’t take for granted what guys come in and do. Whether it’s guys playing through injuries. Guys being here early. Being here late. Guys like Myles (Bryant) who start on the practice squad and just work their butts off continuously and just being ready to go when they get called.

“Or how we went down to Houston this year with Big Mike (Onwenu), Isaiah (Wynn) on the COVID list, Trent (Brown) out. You look up and we’ve got four guys that didn’t start the season playing on the offensive line. And they go out and probably as a group play better than any other group we had out there this week. I think he enjoys that. I think he enjoys what each individual puts into this to collectively be a team. I don’t think this year is any different than the other years. I think he’s always enjoyed it.”

McCourty went on to say he feels like the Patriots are the best-prepared team in the league – even if he’s never suited up anywhere else.

“I would say for all the stuff that gets talked about playing here, for me as a player in my 12 years, I’ve enjoyed every minute of playing for him,” McCourty said, “And the opportunity you get because of his dedication and his staff’s dedication to give you a chance on Sunday or Monday night to go play your best, because of the work they put in to prepare you. I’ve appreciated that a lot, and obviously I haven’t been anywhere else, but I don’t think there’s a coaching staff that works harder than our staff out there. And I think that shows for us. Us going out there and playing fast, that directly correlates to what they do during the week as a staff.”

BILLS COACH Sean McDermott finally got Buffalo over the AFC East hurdle last season, claiming a division title that had pretty much owned by the Patriots for two decades.

They also beat the Patriots twice in the process. But Monday night, the 7-4 Bills will be hosting the AFC East-leading Patriots, who head to Orchard Park for the highly-anticipated showdown sitting at 8-4.

McDermott said he wasn’t surprised at how quickly the Patriots made the turnaround from being a non-playoff team last year with a 7-9 record, to being in playoff position after starting out 2-4. McDermott cited all the moves the Patriots made in the offseason both in free agency and the draft, and also pointed a finger toward Bill Belichick for the team’s rise, winning six straight.

“Just from the outside looking in, I have a lot of respect for what he does, and how he goes about it. He’s won a lot of games for a reason,” said McDermott. “He’s one of the best, if not the best coaches to have ever coached.

“I think there’s a lot of us coaches out here that try to study how they do things there.”

KYLE DUGGER, according to reports, has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive for the coronavirus, clouding his status for Monday’s game in Buffalo.

Dugger was not spotted at Wednesday’s practice at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots’ top draft pick in 2020, Dugger leads New England with 80 tackles to go with three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Dugger has established himself as a hard-hitting in-the-box safety so far in his career and continues to develop as a defender in coverage.

Dugger is listed as a safety, but has the power and tackling ability to play more like a linebacker in the Patriots defense. If he can’t suit up Monday, expect Adrian Phillips to take on more of his duties while a combination of Myles Bryant and Justin Bethel could get more playing time at deep safety.

JAMIE COLLINS returned to practice Wednesday, indicating the linebacker has been designated to return off injured reserve. Collins landed on IR with an ankle injury on Nov. 13. He’s missed the required three games and can now be activated to the active roster.

Before Collins is added to the 53-man roster, the Pats must clear a spot either via release or placing another player on IR. Historically, the Patriots have activated players the day before a game, meaning Collins could wait until Sunday or later. However, if Collins is not activated within the next three weeks, he will revert to IR and remain there for the rest of the season.

Since returning to the Patriots for a second time in late October, Collins has seven tackles, one sack and an interception in five games. He hurt is ankle at Carolina in Week 9, when he played a season-high 27% of the team’s defensive snaps.

Without Collins, the Pats’ linebacking corps consists of Matt Judon, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Calvin Munson and third-round rookie Ronnie Perkins, who’s been a healthy scratch all season.

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