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Pool report: Nate Ebner (concussion) expected to play Sunday, Patriots using 2 players to simulate Julio Jones 02.02.17 at 8:11 pm ET
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Nate Ebner is expected to play in Super Bowl Li. (Michael Madrid/USA Today Sports)

Nate Ebner is expected to play in Super Bowl Li. (Michael Madrid/USA Today Sports)

HOUSTON — It appears Nate Ebner (concussion) will be good to go Sunday against the Falcons.

The special teams ace again worked in a red, non-contact jersey on Thursday, but all signs are pointing to him play Sunday in Super Bowl LI.

“I expect him to be ready to play in the game,” Bill Belichick said to pool reporter Jarrett Bell.

Another thing worth noting is the team is using two players to simulate Falcons receiver Julio Jones in Matthew Slater and Michael Floyd.

“That’s such a key guy for us, the routes and all that,” Belichick said. “We have two guys doing it so we won’t wear one guy out.”

Added Belichick: “You’ve got to know where he is on every play.”

The team is putting extra work in conditioning this week given the length of the game, especially factoring in the long halftime.

“You’re taking a game that’s three hours and it’s going to be closer to four” Belichick said. “You’ve got to sustain that a lot longer. Mentally, you just understand how slow the game is, how long the halftime is, what breaks are in between. It’s going to take a lot more staying power in this game than in a normal game. With pregame warmups and all that, you’re looking at 5.5 hours. It just makes for a long day.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Julio Jones, Matthew Slater, Michael Floyd
Breaking down exactly how Patriots are perfectly-suited to contain Steelers explosive weapons 01.19.17 at 4:31 pm ET
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Jan 14, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) is tackled by New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) during the third quarter in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Dont’a Hightower will be a big part of the Patriots defensive game plan Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Sunday night discipline and fundamentals will meet patience and speed.

The winner will advance to the Super Bowl. The loser will ponder why their approach didn’t work.

The discipline and defensive fundamentals belong to the Patriots defense while patience and speed belong to the Steelers and their explosive offensive weaponry.

The Steelers arguably possess the most feared running back and wide receiver tandem in the NFL in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. They also have a gunslinger in Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and a supporting cast in running back DeAngelo Williams, tight end Jesse James and wide receiver Eli Rogers totally capable of spreading a defense and finding weak spots.

The Patriots have built a reputation as the most disciplined defense in the NFL. They’re not spectacular playmakers but they’re rarely out of position and play with a healthy chip on their shoulders, which Logan Ryan pointed out again Thursday. It’s why Jamie Collins was traded and Jabaal Sheard was benched for a week. If you think you’re bigger than the sum of the parts, you will quickly find your way out of town, or – at the very least – the lineup.

What does discipline on defense mean exactly?

“Basically doing your job,” Dont’a Hightower said. “Patience is something than [Bell] does and discipline is something that will kind of counteract that. A lot of times it’s guys who may have an A-gap and they’re looking in the B-gap and they are shedding, trying to get off because of his patience—not having good enough discipline or getting off and causing those areas that he’s looking for. He has such great quickness and bust that’s he’s able to hit that hole and before you know it, it’s seven yards and he’s pulling the pile for another three yards. Those 2-yard runs, 3-yard runs turn into 11-yard runs real quick.”

Devin McCourty, just like he is on the field, was in sync with Hightower in explaining the approach.

“I think it’s going to start with everyone understanding their role and whatever the defensive call is,” McCourty said. “If you’ve got to be at that one spot we’re going to need you there. They’ve got guys on the field that if they catch a ball on the left side of the defense they can easily end up on the right side if they break a couple tackles. So first is just doing your assignment then I think it’s just pursuit. We can’t be out there jogging or not getting to the ball. We’ve got to get everyone to the ball once the ball is in the air.

“Whether it’s Le’Veon Bell running the ball and he’s so patient behind the line you don’t really know where he’s going to end up once he puts his foot in the ground and goes or it’s one of the receivers catching the ball. If it’s [Darrius] Heyward-Bey on a crossing route he has the speed to catch a pass and turn up field and go 70-80 yards. It’s just everyone hustling, [in] pursuit and just really wanting to get it done. We’ve had plays throughout this season where we’ve seen that. Where we have plays where it’s a five-yard gain and we get all 11 guys to a pile. I think we’ve got to have that for 60 minutes all day Sunday.”
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Read More: AFC Championship, Antonio Brown, Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower
Chris Hogan: ‘I could not care less’ about Roger Goodell deciding not to attend AFC championship game 01.17.17 at 6:32 pm ET
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Roger Goodell won't be in New England on Sunday. (Brett Davis/USA Today Sports)

Roger Goodell won’t be in New England on Sunday. (Brett Davis/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Much of New England seems to be upset Roger Goodell will not be in attendance Sunday for the AFC championship game as he will be in at Atlanta for the second straight weekend for the NFC title games.

But the Patriots players don’t seem to care at all.

“I could not care less,” wide receiver Chris Hogan said. “I’m focused on Pittsburgh and their defense and studying them as much as I can this week, watching them as much as I can so I can go out there on Sunday prepared.”

Special teams captain Matthew Slater isn’t concerned about it, either.

“Not necessarily, I mean the game is going to be played and whoever is in attendance is in attendance,” he said. “We’re just worried about trying to play well.”

Hogan is also just glad to still be playing football this time of year considering this is his first playoff appearance.

“On a couch watching football, wishing that I was in this position,” he said of what he was doing last year at this time. “I’m fortunate to be in this position now and I’m going to go out there and give it everything I have to help this team win.”

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Chris Hogan, Matthew Slater, roger goodell,
Patriots get reminded of NFL social media policy following Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live video at 6:18 pm ET
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Matthew Slater wasn't bothered by Mike Tomlin's comments. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

Matthew Slater wasn’t bothered by Mike Tomlin’s comments. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — While the Patriots had little reaction to Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live video from after Sunday’s game in the Steelers locker room, they were reminded of the NFL’s social media policy.

The policy states players cannot post to social media 90 minutes before the game and not until postgame interviews are over.

“I believe there’s one for the NFL, and we were reminded of that,” receiver Chris Hogan said. “I’m not sure what the timing is, but obviously, I don’t think we’ll see guys doing that in the locker room.”

Special teams captain Matthew Slater added: “Yes, we have a team policy on that. [It’s] strictly enforced, and we go from there.”

Despite Steelers coach Mike Tomlin calling the Patriots a-holes in the video, Slater said the video will not impact how how views him.

“I have a lot of respect for Coach Tomlin,” he said. “I appreciate the way he preps his team. I’ve had a good working relationship with him over the years, and it will continue to be that way.”

The Patriots will also not be using the video as motivation for Sunday, as it is the AFC title game after all.

“We’re playing in the AFC championship game,” Slater said. “If you can’t get motivated to play in this game, then you’re in the wrong sport.”

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Chris Hogan, Matthew Slater,
Patriots expecting good atmosphere Saturday night: ‘I’m sure it’ll be wild. We have the best fans in the league’ 01.12.17 at 6:00 am ET
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The Patriots will host the Texans Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. (WEEI.com)

The Patriots will host the Texans Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. (WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — Playoff football is back at Gillette Stadium and the Patriots are looking forward to playing in front of their fans.

The Patriots will host the Texans Saturday night in the divisional round at Gillette Stadium. It is the eighth straight year the team has hosted a playoff game.

For Dont’a Hightower, it’s his fifth year with the team so he knows what type of atmosphere to expect.

“I’m sure it’ll be wild. We have the best fans in the league,” Hightower said. “It’s usually cold so I’m sure they’ll be looking forward to that. But all around, playoff time and home field advantage, it helps as far as just the overall emotion and excitement that it brings. Those third downs and those backed up situations where we have the offense on the ropes back there – those really help.

“Sometimes, believe it or not, a lot of guys get pretty crazy to want to make a play and get up and do the little sack dance or whatever. So always being at home always helps.”

Matthew Slater also has plenty of playoff experience at Gillette Stadium. He urged the fans to be loud.

“I think this is the time of year that our fans love,” he said. “They understand the role they play in the game, the role they play in home field advantage, and we’re excited for them to be at their best. We’re expecting their best on Saturday, and we’re in it together.”

Added Slater: “Just get loud. They know what to do. They’re seasoned, experienced fans, so they know what to do.”

If the Patriots win, they would host the AFC title game a week from Sunday.

Read More: Dont'a Hightower, Matthew Slater,
Matthew Slater only Patriot named to AP All-Pro team; Matt Ryan edges Tom Brady at QB 01.06.17 at 12:41 pm ET
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Matthew Slater

Matthew Slater

The Patriots have one representative on the AP All-Pro team, and it’s not who some may think.

Special teamer Matthew Slater made the team for the first time in his career. It’s notable considering he didn’t even play the whole season.

Tom Brady was beaten out by Matt Ryan at quarterback, which could be telling when it comes to who might win the MVP race, as it is the same 50 voters.

Right tackle Marcus Cannon received six AP All-Pro votes, which were tied for second-highest among right tackles. Despite playing only eight games, Rob Gronkowski received one All-Pro vote.

Devin McCourty received four votes, which were the third-most at safety and Malcolm Butler received eight at cornerback, tied for fourth-most.

Brady, Cannon, Butler, McCourty, Dont’a Hightower and Nate Ebner were named to the All-Pro second team.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Matthew Slater, Tom Brady,
Always classy Matthew Slater says winning 2016 Bart Starr award ‘blew me away’ 01.04.17 at 9:18 am ET
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FOXBORO — The rest of the football world is honoring Matthew Slater for something everyone in New England already knows.

The ninth-year special teams captain is pure class.

Slater has been chosen by his NFL peers to receive one of the sport’s most prestigious honors, The Athletes in Action Bart Starr Award, given annually to a player who exemplifies character and leadership on and off the field.

Matthew Slater’s father, Hall of Famer Jackie Slater was a former offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams and the 1996 Bart Starr Award winner, making this the first time a father and son have both earned the honor.

“I haven’t had the chance to meet Mr. Starr. Obviously, his career has been well-documented on the field,” Slater said Wednesday morning in Foxboro when first asked about it. “In things that I’ve read and seen and heard, and the type of man that he was and the things that he valued. A man of faith, a man that was about family, a man that stood for a lot of the things that I’d like to stand for over the course of my life. It’s an honor to be associated with the name Bart Starr.

“I looked at the list of guys who’ve won that award. It blew me away. Man, there are some guys here. Look at Steve Largent, the original winner. I know a lot about Steve and his faith through, obviously my dad, and some other people. But on down the list, I almost feel like I shouldn’t be on the list with my dad, either. To be associated with the name Bart Starr and that award, it means a lot.”

An anticipated 1,700 business executives will attend this year’s breakfast, presented by Athletes in Action and the Super Service Challenge, to watch Matthew Slater receive the Bart Starr Award and hear stories of faith and football from NFL players past and present. Program guests will include Tony Dungy (Super Bowl Champion Coach), Roger Staubach (HOF 1985), Bruce Matthews (Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, 1983 – 2013), Anthony Munoz (Cincinnati Bengals, 1980 – 1992), Derrick Brooks (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1995 – 2008) and emcee James Brown (host of The NFL Today and Thursday Night Football).

Slater’s most emotional moment came when he detailed how he found out and what he shared with his father this week when he was informed of the award.

“Oh man, it was really emotional for me,” Slater said. “I think you guys know well enough by covering me now that I really value the human element of football and I really value the relationships that I’ve made with people over the years. All of that stems from the faith that I have in God and the way that I was raised by my parents. I’m a man who is far from perfect, but I really feel like the Lord has done a lot of great things in my life. He’s working on me as a man, as a husband, as a father. I’ve always tried to keep in perspective that I’m not different than anyone else because I play football. It’s just a job. But at the end of the day, the connection you make with people, the way you treat people, the things that you try to stand for and believe in – though it may be, as I said, not perfect at times, it’s something that is very important to me. So to win this award, an award that my dad won in 1996, it’s really, I don’t know, it’s hard to put into words. It really is.”

The team played an elaborate game of misdirection on him Monday to disguise the announcement of the honor.

“Well, they set me up pretty good. We have our bible study on Mondays after the game,” Slater said. “They changed the time of the bible study, made it a little bit later, and I was like, ‘Oh well, schedule adjust here.’ [Patriots Character Coach/Team Development] Jack Easterby tells me, ‘Hey, see you at bible study,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ you know, everything’s status quo, and I go into the bible study and there’s like 60 guys in there and coaches, and I’m like, ‘Man, we’re about to have a good bible study right now. This is going to be good.’ And then Stacey James is in there and a camera crew and I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t know if we’re doing like a playoff edition of bible study for the fans, but this is great.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘Jack, you better have a good one today, man. You better step it up.’ Jack’s got a sheet that he usually has and he goes through some things, and then his phone starts ringing. I’m like, ‘Man, come on Jack you’ve got to tighten up. You can’t have your phone ringing here, we’ve got all these people.’

“He answers the phone and there’s an older woman on the phone and she’s looking for Jack Easterby. They exchange a little bit and she’s like, ‘Is Matt there? I’m looking for Matt,’ and I’m like, ‘Where’s Matty P. [Matt Patricia]? Is he in here?’ I’m not thinking me, but they call me down and the woman on the phone is Mrs. [Cherry] Starr. She tells me I win the award, and they had the cameras in there and my allergies start acting up a little bit. You know, seasonal allergies there. She told me my dad and I were the first father and son to win this award and I mean, I don’t know. I’m just blown away by it. I really am.

“It’s a platform. I once heard my dad say that with all the success that he had in football that it was conceivable to him that God gave him that success in order [for him to] have a platform to connect with people and to share with them the things that he believes. I totally agreed with my dad when he said that. It’s a platform and it’s conceivable to me as well that everything that I’ve accomplished as a member of this team is solely so that I may have a platform to connect with people, that I can have a platform to share with people my faith, and just to love on people. I really feel like that’s what football has given me. That’s what football has given my family over two generations now. We’re just very thankful for it.”

As for his dad’s reaction to his son winning the award?

“It was hard for me to judge my dad’s reaction because my mom was going so crazy in the background,” Slater said. “We FaceTimed them with my son like we normally do and I broke the news to them. I think it’s very humbling for us, an offensive lineman and a special teams player to get this kind of recognition. We don’t really hold ourselves in that high of a regard. We’re just guys that are thankful for all the opportunities we’ve had. We’ve had a special journey, my dad and I, through the last – starting in 1976 for him and starting in 2008 for me.

“Respect is huge. We all don’t believe the same thing, we all don’t live by the same creed, so to speak, but I think respect is important. I think this team, which you’ve seen this year, has guys that respect one another, respect the differences that we have. We just come together despite those differences. We’ve been able to come together for a common cause and that common cause is to be as good of a football team as we can be. When you’re dealing with people on an individual level, what I’ve learned through good and bad is that respect is important. Taking the time to learn about the people that you work with, the people that you deal with day in and day out, it really goes a long way.”

Then there are the teammates that play with Slater.

“Honestly, it’s been an honor to play with him as a teammate and to learn from him and see how he prepares at a professional level and what the does to take care of his body,” Devin McCourty said. “The guy is here until like 6:30 p.m. every day, trying to do little things to get ahead. But I think for me the best thing is being a friend. I think the opportunity to call him a friend and get to know him, his wife, his child, his son, has really blown me away. The amount I’ve learned from Slate [Matthew Slater], I mean you can’t even explain or write it down on one sheet of paper. He’s been a tremendous leader, role model for everybody in the locker room.

“I think now in his ninth year you can say the same thing about him in year four or five. Older guys that were vets that came in here, you looked at Slate, you looked to see what he did. I mean obviously because he was a great player but his character, I think who he was as a person will always stick out about him. I think for the guys to be a part of him receiving that award and seeing it and seeing what it meant to him was really cool. I’m proud of him and happy he got the acknowledgment that he’s really deserved throughout his whole NFL career and really his whole life. It didn’t just start now. Honored just to play with him and call him a friend.”

The plan is for Slater to receive the Bart Starr Award in person at one of Super Bowl weekend’s premier events, the Athletes in Action Super Bowl Breakfast on the Saturday before the Super Bowl. Along with his father, Matthew Slater will join the list of Bart Starr Award winners that includes Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Brent Jones, Kurt Warner, Aeneas Williams, Jason Witten, London Fletcher and Reggie White.
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Read More: Bart Starr, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots,
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