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5 thoughts on return of LeGarrette Blount, state of Patriots running game 11.21.14 at 12:12 am ET
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LeGarrette Blount has returned to Foxboro. What sort of role can he have with the 2014 Patriots? (Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount has returned to Foxboro. What sort of role can he have with the 2014 Patriots? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

1. In stark contrast to the nasty words that were coming out of the Pittsburgh locker room in the wake of what happened with LeGarrette Blount over the last week, on Thursday, the vibe around the Patriots was all good when it came to the newest Patriot. Special teams captain Matthew Slater called him a “great teammate,” while fullback James Develin said it was “good” to have him back. Meanwhile, Jonas Gray — who likely will see his role shrink some with the addition of Blount — said he had no problem with the move, adding that the veteran is is a “great guy to learn from.” As for what sort of role awaits him, it’s likely he’ll split duties with Gray as the primary between-the-tackles back, as well as serve as some sort of insurance policy if the stage gets too big for the youngster, or if he puts the ball on the ground at some point. It’s also possible he sees time as a part-time kick returner — with the occasional exception of Danny Amendola, no one has really done much to distinguish themselves in the position. With his background last year, it certainly makes sense for the Patriots to give him a shot back there.

2. Few teams have seen the type of turnover at the running back position as New England. With the injury to Ridley, if form holds, the Patriots will have their sixth different back lead the team in rushing in 2014 over the last decade — only four other teams (Saints, Browns, Broncos and Cardinals) have had more. Corey Dillon (2004-2006), Laurence Maroney (2007, 2009), Sammy Morris (2008), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010-2011) and Stevan Ridley (2012-2013). And now, with Ridley on the shelf the rest of the year, this season it figures to be either Vereen, Gray or Blount. That could change again next year, as Brandon Bolden, Ridley and Shane Vereen are all in the final year of their contracts, while Blount, Gray and rookie James White are all under contract for 2015. (In addition, Tyler Gaffney, who was claimed by the Patriots this summer but is spending the year on injured reserve because of a knee issue, is still a possibility to be a part of the mix next season.) Regardless, even with all the changes, things could still change between now and the start of next season.

3. As forward thinking as the Patriots offense — and the passing game in particular — has been the last few years, there’s something impressively retro about what New England might be able to do this season. If we operate with the idea that a “running back by committee” includes a team with four backs with at least 40 carries, it appears that for the second straight season, the Patriots will attempt to be the first team to win a Super Bowl using the “running back by committee” approach since the 1987 Redskins, who won Super Bowl. Right now, the Patriots three different backs reach with at least 69 carries (Ridley with 94, Vereen with 70 and Gray with 69). While some of those numbers are borne out of necessarily since Ridley went down, if Blount is able to click down the stretch for New England — and it’s entirely possible he can hit the 40-carry mark, given his experience in the system — he would be a fourth. If the Patriots could take the title, it would represent the greatest cross-section of work for running backs for any Super Bowl champion since that Washington team emerged with a win in Super Bowl XXII. (Of course, that Redskins team could be discounted on a penalty, as that was a strike year and one of the backs was a scab who rushed 80 times in three strike games but never played another down. If you disqualify them on a technicality, them the last true RBBC team to win a Super Bowl in a non-strike year was the 1981 Niners, a team that had five different backs finish with 40 carries or more: Ricky Patton, Earl Cooper, Johnny Davis, Walt Easley and Paul Hofer.)

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Read More: Ahmad Bradshaw, Andre Ellington, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Brandon Bolden
Rob Gronkowski, Stephen Gostkowski and Matthew Slater among top Pro Bowl vote-getters 11.13.14 at 8:30 am ET
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Rob Gronkowski leads all tight ends in Pro Bowl voting. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski leads all tight ends in Pro Bowl voting. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With the first wave of voting complete, three members of the Patriots lead Pro Bowl voting at their respective positions.

Rob Gronkowski leads voting among tight ends with 166,066 votes, while kicker Stephen Gostkowski (67,814 votes) and special teamer Matthew Slater (36,679 votes) are also currently leading their groupings.

As for quarterback Tom Brady, he’s fourth among quarterbacks with 254,807, behind only Peyton Manning (359,598), Andrew Luck (284,575), Aaron Rodgers (280,394). He’s fifth overall, as he’s just nudged out by running back DeMarco Murray (263,097).

Despite the fact that Brady is near the top of the voting totals, don’t expect him to make it, even if the Patriots are able to play. The quarterback has been voted to the Pro Bowl in 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, but the last time he actually went to the Pro Bowl was 2004.

The Pro Bowl will be played on Jan. 25 in Arizona the week before the Super Bowl.

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

Read More: aaron rodgers, Andrew Luck, Matthew Slater, Peyton Manning
Short week won’t get in the way of Patriots-Jets rivalry: ‘Everything goes out the window when you play these guys’ 10.13.14 at 9:13 pm ET
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FOXBORO — With just three days in between games when playing on Thursday Night Football, it might be tough to get up for your next opponent.

Not this week for the Patriots and Jets, as the AFC East division rivals will meet for the first time this season Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

“I think records go out the window when you play these guys,”€ special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “Everything goes out the window when you play these guys and you don’€™t have a problem getting up for them because of the history that is there. We will be ready as well.”

Even though the Jets come into the game 1-5 — losers of five straight — they are coming off a game Sunday where they were competitive right until the end with the Broncos, ultimately falling, 31-17. It is also their first division game of the season.

Having limited time to prepare, it does help facing a team you’€™re familiar with.

“Obviously every year teams are different,” Slater said. “We have new players, they have new players so there is still a sense of urgency when I comes to getting to know them, but it does help that we know some of their tendencies and we know their coach. We know kind of what to expect.”

After getting back from Buffalo late Sunday night, the biggest thing for the players is to try and get their bodies back to full strength after the beating they took Sunday afternoon, while also trying to become familiar with the game plan as quickly as possible with only two days until the game.

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Read More: Matthew Slater, New York Jets, Rob Ninkovich,
Patriots supporting Jerod Mayo following season-ending injury: ‘Hopefully we can play well for him’ at 7:57 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Sunday’€™s win over the Bills came with a big price.

The Patriots lost running back Stevan Ridley for the season with a torn ACL and MCL and also their leader on defense — captain Jerod Mayo to a ‘€œsevere lower right leg’€ injury, also reportedly ending his season.

It’€™s the second straight season Mayo has been lost for the year in Week 6 after he tore his pectoral last season and it gets no easier for his teammates, both coping with the injury as well as replacing him in the middle of the field at his middle linebacker position.

“With that happening yesterday, it was a blow,”€ fellow captain Matthew Slater said. “You can’€™t try and pretend it’€™s one of those things you can pick up and move on from because you feel for a guy like Jerod. I came in with Jerod, we were rookies together and to see him go down I know took a toll on me, but we have to do the best we can to bounce back.

“A lot of guys have to step up because a guy like that is hard to replace — not only what he does on the field, but who he is in this locker room. His leadership, the man that he is. A lot of guys can emulate and imitate because of who he is. Hopefully we can play well for him the rest of the year, but like I said there is no replacing him with one guy, it’€™s going to take a lot of guys stepping up.”

With all the season-ending injuries the defense had to deal with last season — including Mayo’s — defensive end/linebacker Rob Ninkovich was forced into playing much more than he was accustomed to and played quite well. Once again, it will take efforts like that to replace Mayo.

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Read More: Jerod Mayo, Matthew Slater, Rob Ninkovich,
Patriots elect Matthew Slater NFLPA player rep, Darrelle Revis alternate 10.03.14 at 10:51 am ET
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FOXBORO — In a move that hardly comes as a surprise, Patriots players have elected special teams captain Matthew Slater as their Players Association player rep to handle all matters between the union and the team.

Two other veterans, offensive lineman Ryan Wendell and kicker Stephen Gostkowski were elected as alternates as was cornerback Darrelle Revis.

The NFLPA made the announcement Friday morning on its Twitter page.

Read More: Darrelle Revis, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots, NFLPA
Patriots searching for identity going into Sunday’s matchup with Cincinnati 10.01.14 at 6:06 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There is a sense of unknown with the Patriots following the first four weeks of the season.

Last year the team was as mentally tough of any team in the Bill Belichick era, coming from a 24-0 halftime deficit against the Broncos to win in overtime, scoring with five seconds left to beat the Saints, 30-27 and also scoring two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds to beat the Browns, 27-26.

This season, following one of the worst losses in the Belichick-Tom Brady tenure –€“ a 41-14 shellacking by the Chiefs on Monday Night Football — the Patriots go into this Sunday night’€™s game with the Bengals not really knowing how it will respond as they have yet to build an identity.

“We’€™ll find out,”€ said special teams captain Matthew Slater. “€œI feel confident we’€™ll be a resilient group and be able to bounce back, but time will tell. It’€™s easy to sit here and talk about it, but hopefully we’€™ll go out there and do something about it.”

For the most part this year’s team is the same as the one last year with a few exceptions — most notably Darrelle Revis on defense and rookies Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming on the offense line, along with the departures of Aqib Talib and Logan Mankins.

Even with a couple of younger players being mixed in, there is still a veteran presence, which can only help at a time like this.

“Every guy in this locker room has been in a situation where they haven’€™t played well or been on a good team and coming off a bad loss,”€ safety Devin McCourty said. “I think as football players we go through that — maybe not yet in the NFL — but throughout their college or high school careers. Your character or confidence as a individual player isn’€™t changed by that. I think we have good leadership so those young guys can look to us as the older guys in the locker room and see some of us played bad and we’€™ll be ready to go.”

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Read More: Bengals, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater,
Matthew Slater compares ‘fearless’ Cordarrelle Patterson to Devin Hester 09.12.14 at 10:27 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Earlier in the day, Bill Belichick compared Cordarrelle Patterson to Baltimore’s explosive Jacoby Jones, the man who returned a key kick for a touchdown to open the second half of Super Bowl XLVII.

Matthew Slater, the Patriots special teams captain who’s responsible for helping the unit contain threats like Patterson this Sunday, made another comparison – Devin Hester.

With 18 touchdowns, Hester holds the NFL record for most all-time return touchdowns (punt and kick combined) and most all-time punt return touchdowns (13). Last year, Patterson had two kickoff returns for touchdowns.

“I think what we have to do is really do a good job of getting a lot of hats to the ball,” Slater said. “This guy back there is as good as anybody we’ve seen over the last 10, 15 years in this league. He reminds you a lot of a young Hester with his explosive play. We just have to do a good job of getting a lot of hats to the ball, everybody just doing their job, not trying to go down there and run out of your lane to make a heroic play. We just have to do our job, beat this front and hopefully contain him.”

Like Jones in the Super Bowl, Patterson returned a kick 109 yards for a touchdown last year, one of two he took to the house in 2013. He led the NFL with a 15.4 yard average. What makes him so good from a defender’s perspective?

“I think similar to Devin and Jacoby, he is fearless,” Slater said. “Those guys, the good ones, are not afraid. Sometimes there may be smoke and they’re running though it. Now, there may be a guy on the other side of that smoke or there may be a seam. Those guys are not afraid to hit it and that’s what makes them great.”

Patterson isn’t the only return specialist Slater is concerned about as Marcus Sherels is one of the most feared punt returners in the game.

“This guy was second in the league in punt returns last year,” Slater noted. “Speed, quickness, similar aggressive nature about him. He’s got the ability to make people miss in the open field and he seems to have a good feel for the return schemes that they run. He poses a big problem back there as well.”

Read More: Cordarrelle Patterson, Devin Hester, Jacoby Jones, Marcus Sherels
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