Best of the Belichick Era: Number 12 — Willie McGinest

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I'm spending 50 days ranking the top 50 players of the Bill Belichick Era, from No. 50 down to No. 1. (Click here for a criteria on how I made my selections.)

Enjoy.

Today we reach . . . .

NUMBER 12: WILLIE McGINEST
Years With Patriots: 1994-2005 (2000-05 with Belichick)
Games: 87
Playoff Games: 13
Honors: Super Bowl Champion (2001, 2003, 2004), Pro Bowl (2003) (all numbers are for work done while Belichick was head coach)

So many big plays in so many big games. That’s why Willie McGinest is here. The fourth overall pick in the 1994 draft, McGinest’s career had a line of demarcation. The first portion, from 1994 to 1999 was underwhelming even with a Pro Bowl appearance in 1996. McGinest battled injuries. He was a locker room lawyer. He produced but not at a level corresponding to his draft status or the way he carried himself. When Bill Belichick returned to the Patriots as head coach in 2000, a page was turned. McGinest became a more positive leader and a more reliable and complete player. Belichick mined McGinest’s talent with praise and added responsibility. The maturity and confidence McGinest may have gained from that turned him into a player that didn’t disappear in crucial spots but owned them. One of the hidden huge plays of Super Bowl 36 was McGinest’s 16-yard sack of Rams quarterback Kurt Warner with 4:32 left in the fourth quarter. The sack squelched a Rams’ drive that started at their 7 and reached the Patriots 38 when the score was 17-10. It followed a New England three-and-out. It was the drive after the Rams scored their first TD of the game. It was the last decent defensive play the flagging Patriots D would make that night. The fourth-down, goal-line stop of Colts Edgerrin James is the play people remember from 2003, but McGinest made season-saving plays in that season’s epic Divisional Playoff game against Tennessee – dropping Titans tight Frank Wycheck for a 10-yard loss in the third quarter of a 14-14 game when the Titans were running a double pass; a sack of Steve McNair on second down on the ensuing drive – and the Patriots escaped. McGinest finished that postseason with five sacks. In the 2004 opener against the Colts, the Patriots were clinging to a 27-24 lead in the final minute and had third-and-8 at the Patriots 17. Peyton Manning, patting the ball and looking left like it was a 7-on-7 drill in the RCA Dome, got dropped by McGinest for a 12-yard sack. The yards meant plenty. Mike Vanderjagt missed the would-be, tying field goal. The career leader in postseason sacks, McGinest will go into the Patriots Hall of Fame this summer. He deserves to.

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