FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Duron Harmon thought it was time to speak up.
It was about a half-hour after the Patriots' 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 1. As his teammates walked around in a daze following their second loss in four games, Harmon didn't hold back when asked what was wrong with a defense that already had given up 30 or more points three times.
"Obviously, what we're doing is not good enough, so we need to go take a look in the mirror and just look and realize: Are we doing enough to win?" he said that night.
Both the words and the sentiment had a familiar ring to them.
That's because it was Harmon who issued a similar challenge to his team during halftime of last year's Super Bowl against Atlanta. It's a pep talk his teammates credited with helping them complete their 25-point comeback.
Since signing a four-year, $17 million contract this past offseason, the defensive captain has become an even more vocal presence in the Patriots' locker room and was one of their most consistent players down the stretch.
He led the team with four interceptions, including one in the end zone in the waning seconds of New England's 27-24 win at Pittsburgh that would help it secure home-field advantage in the postseason.
The 27-year-old says he still feels like a "young player" but that he has felt more at ease speaking his mind as he heads to his third Super Bowl, where the Patriots will face the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday.
Part of the reason is because he thinks he's playing alongside a defensive unit that is just as tough mentally as the one that showed up when it had to against Atlanta. He also doesn't have to worry about hurting anyone's feelings in a locker room where the demand for excellence is so high.
"Just a group of fighters," Harmon said. "I mean you just look at the way the year progressed - started the year not the way we wanted to, came out and lost the opener, got to 2-2, but nobody in here really listened to the noise. We ignored it. We did everything we can to get better and try to progress throughout the year and that's the reason why we're here right now, just because we continued to fight."
Patriots safety Devin McCourty said Harmon's preparation is noticeable to his teammates and gives him credibility when he chooses to speak out. It also has allowed the coaching staff to trust him late in games.
"The situation doesn't affect him. The pressure doesn't bother him," McCourty said. "Since he was a young guy in here, if he was thrown in there at the end of the game he was ready to go, and I thought he's always done a good job of taking advantage of opportunities."
It's also kept Harmon on the field.
He appeared in all 16 regular-season games for the fourth straight season. Though often used in nickel situations as the third safety, including in the playoffs, Harmon has been on the field for 60 percent or more of the Patriots' defensive snaps 11 times this season.
Having him out there is never a bad thing, coach Bill Belichick said.
"Whether he's 60 percent or 80 percent, whatever it is, 70 percent, whatever it ends up being - we want him on the field. He does a good job for us," Belichick said.
Harmon said playing in place that puts such a premium on accountability is what drew him in from the beginning.
"If you love winning it's not hard," he said. "I mean this is what this place is about - winning. Everything we do, everything we sacrifice for is for to win. Coming here as a young guy five years ago, I just see how competitive this place was and I just wanted to be a part of it so I did everything in my power to continue to get better and try to make sure that at the end of training camp I'm always on this roster."
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