NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots

Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty swoops in for a tackle during New England’s AFC divisional playoff win over the Los Angeles Chargers. A 10-year veteran, McCourty had never been to the NFL playoffs before this season.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — After spending last year with the winless Cleveland Browns and his career without a playoff game, Jason McCourty’s appreciation for being part of this Patriots’ playoff run in his first season in New England has been celebrated at each step.

His teammates seem to be enjoying watching him savor the experience, but that doesn’t stop them from teasing him a bit, even his twin brother Devin, a playoff veteran, gets in on it.

“I was just telling Dev and Du (Duron Harmon), “How excited are ya’ll? We’re going to the Super Bowl. We leave on Sunday,” McCourty said putting extra emphasis on Super Bowl. “And they’re like, “Calm down, man. Take it easy.” That’s been my role this year. I bring a different perspective, a different type of energy, a different journey which brings a different outlook on things. I’m embracing it. I can probably be annoying at times but they love me.”

Because this is Devin’s fifth trip, Jason has been to the event before as a spectator.

The Patriots practiced Saturday in Foxborough and have a send-off gathering at Gillette Stadium at 10 a.m. today before flying to Atlanta. The annual opening night event (formally Super Bowl media day) is Monday night.

McCourty is eagerly anticipating all of it all the way to next Sunday’s 6:40 p.m. game against the Los Angeles Rams.

“Everything. This will be my fifth Super Bowl that I’m attending and this is the first time that I get to go inside. So for me, hearing so many stories about it from my brother, I usually go down Tuesday of when he went down and catch up with him on his off day. We’d go eat and just hang out whenever he had off time throughout the course of the week,” Jason McCourty said. “Hearing so much about it, being a part of it, for me I’m extremely excited of everything that’s on the itinerary just because I’ve heard about it. I feel like from the outside looking in, I’ve been looking through the window, looking at it, and now I get an opportunity to be a part of this all. With this group of guys, for me, in Year 10 to get a chance to take on this challenge and still be playing at this point, I’m just excited and grateful for each and everything that’s coming.”

Julian Edelman said Jason McCourty’s energy has been infectious.

“He’s a guy that works his tail off and this is his first playoff run,” Edelman said. “He’s been in the league for 10 years — same here — so having that mind around and that mentality and that kind of a chip, it’s awesome. He motivates.”

Edelman’s hard work pays off

The last couple years have been a wild ride for Edelman. But now, two years after the high of making one of the most memorable catches in Super Bowl history, Edelman has come from the dregs of a major injury and a PED suspension to return to full form as the New England Patriots head to another Super Bowl.

Watching Edelman light up the Kansas City Chiefs late in the AFC Championship Game (and most most of the 2018 season) it’s easy to forget how unlikely his story really is. He’s 32 years old coming off a season-ending ACL tear. For an undersized receiver who relies on agility, an iota of quickness lost to injury or age could’ve meant a trajectory towards obscurity.

Instead, Edelman is playing some of the best football of his career. At this point a year ago, he was removed from his teammates as they prepared to take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. For a guy as fiery and emotional as Edelman, it wasn’t easy to sit back and watch — even if it means your own team was succeeding.

“It was tough. You’ve got mixed emotions,” Edelman said. “You’re happy your teammates are there. You’re happy, you see some of these younger guys coming as rookie and develop big roles, make big plays and get to the Super Bowl. You’re excited from them, but then you’ve also got a hurt feeling because you’re not playing, so that’s kind of how you feel.”

The last time Edelman was on the championship stage, he made one of the most memorable catches in Super Bowl history as part of the Great Comeback against the Atlanta Falcons. Since then, Edelman has been through a lot, but he says that it “means the world” to come back from all of it and once again be at the precipice of another title.

“It’s been a crazy year for me -- two years,” Edelman said. “Had a kid, year your ACL, miss four games, it’s been a mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting year and you put all that effort into overcoming that for this game. It’s been a heck of a year to get to go out and play with your teammates and see how this thing’s evolved out. It’s always a great thing to get to play in the last game of the year.”

Edelman has come back and averaged 70.8 yards per game, the second-best mark of his career, while playing in every game since his suspension. For a player who’s struggled to stay healthy, it’s been a banner year at an unlikely time. Undersized receivers like Edelman can break down quickly once they get to the wrong side of 30. But just like his quarterback, Edelman has shown off the potential for longevity in the unforgiving world of the NFL.

With Josh Gordon gone and Rob Gronkowski’s impact in the passing game fluctuating, Edelman heads into Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams as the Patriots’ unquestioned top target. It’s a far cry from being far from the field the last time the Patriots stood on this stage.

On Feb. 3, we’ll see if Edelman’s return can help create a different result from the game that he missed a year ago.

___

(c)2019 MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.