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Matthew Slater on M&M: Patriots receivers taught to run pick play, but ‘we’re always going to play within the rules of the game’

01.20.14 at 1:07 pm ET
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Patriots receiver and special teams Pro Bowler Matthew Slater checked in with Mut & Merloni on Monday to offer his take on Sunday’s loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game and the controversy surrounding Wes Welker‘s off-the-ball hit on Aqib Talib. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick started off his Monday morning press conference by calling out Welker for what the coach called “one of the worst plays I’ve seen.”

Said Slater: “Obviously Aqib is so important to this football team, what he brings to the table. So for us to lose him in that type of situation was tough. Obviously coach saw something on the film that he didn’t deem fair, and I’m sure he had just reason to feel that way. I haven’t seen the play. If he felt that way, I’m sure that that’s what it was. But there’s nothing that we can do about it now.

“I hope Aqib is OK and on the mend and we can get him healthy and have a healthy offseason. That happens in football and there’s nothing that we can do about it now.”

With the Patriots losing so many key starters this season, Slater said Talib’s injury was just another challenge to overcome.

“We’ve been put in that position so many times this year that we didn’t give it a lot of thought,” he said of the team’s initial reaction. “We just thought we’ve got to continue to play on. But obviously, just like those other guys, looking back in hindsight, when you lose a guy like that it’s going to have an impact, especially in a game like that. But during the time, we didn’t think about it.”

The hit happened while Welker appeared to be running a pick play to free up a teammate, and he collided with Talib as the ball was arriving in Demaryius Thomas‘ hands (Thomas dropped the pass).

“With a lot of man coverage being played in the league, there’s certain things that you have to do to be creative to get your guys open. But you’ve got to do it within the rules and regulations,” Slater said. “When we’re taught to run those routes, we’re taught to still run to get open, not just go in there and set a basketball pick. You’ve got an attempt to get open and make it look like you’re getting open, because the rules state that you have to do that. So, we’re taught to do that, obviously, but within the rules of the game. We’re always going to play within the rules of the game.”

Following are more highlights from the interview. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

On Sunday’s loss: “Definitely take your hat off to Denver, they’re a great football team and obviously Peyton [Manning] is an awesome quarterback, to say the least. We just didn’t make enough plays yesterday. But you have to be proud of the way we responded with everything that we went through this year, losing key cogs, captains. It seemed like every week somebody was going down. So for us to respond the way we did and make it to the AFC championship game, I think that says a lot about the mental toughness of our team that we had this year and the leadership on our coaching staff.”

On not living up to the team’s expectations: “Every year around here our goal is the same, and that’s to be playing in the final game and to win the final game, and you feel like if you don’t achieve that goal there’s something missing. That’s not to take away from the season that we had this year, with all that we went through with the injuries and guys missing and whatnot, but it’s still disappointing.”

On losing so many key starters to injuries during the season: “We tried not to think about it. We tried to just take it one week at a time, one game at a time and just focus on doing our job. I think if we did really stop and think, we don’t have Vince [Wilfork], we don’t have [Rob Gronkowski], we don’t have Jerod [Mayo], we don’t have Tommy Kelly, we don’t have Sebastian [Vollmer], it could have gotten overwhelming. So we tried to put that aside and not think about it. Looking back on it in hindsight, definitely were some tremendous odds to overcome but I think we did a good job with the cards that we were dealt.”

On being targeted for a deep pass on a third-and-3 play when he had not been targeted all season: “Watching the film, as Josh [McDaniels] and the coaches were game-planning, they saw some matchups that they liked, get a chance to use some of my strengths against some of the players that they had. [The Broncos] did a good job, Tony Carter went up and made a nice play on that, on the 50-50 ball. I kind of knew early in the week that I was going to get my number called. I did everything I could to prepare. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for us.”

On if the Broncos defense surprised the Patriots: “I think we got what we expected, what we prepared for all week. I think what they did was just come out and do a good job of executing. We were able to move the ball on them, but we weren’t able to sustain drives and finish in the red area, struggled a little bit on third down, obviously. Take your hat off to them. They made a lot of plays, they made them when they counted, and they deserved to win the football game.”

On the Patriots special teams not playing a big role Sunday: “It was a tough day for us because we didn’t get to have an impact on the football game. Not a lot of punts in the game, and obviously the kickoffs were out of the end zone. We kind of felt like our hands were tied. We were anxious to leave our mark on the game, but sometimes that’s the way the game goes.”

On playing in his third Pro Bowl next weekend: “It’s definitely a tremendous honor. I’m humbled by the honor. I’m grateful for that acknowledgment for my hard work. But at the end of the day, I’d much rather be playing with my teammates, moving forward, and all that we’ve been through the last several months. But I’ll go over there and have a chance to look back on the season and definitely have a lot to be thankful for.”

Read More: Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Matthew Slater, Wes Welker Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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