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Bill Belichick puts Matthew Slater in a very special class 01.19.13 at 9:50 am ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick looks for leadership from his players in various ways. He looks for it on the practice field. He looks for it in the classroom and off the field.

He also looks for it when things don’t go well.

For the Patriots’ special teams unit, that would be last week. And Matthew Slater is the captain of that unit. Slater was seen yelling and getting after his team after allowing several big plays last week in the 41-28 win over the Texans. It was about the only area of the game that didn’t go as planned.

They allowed a 94-yard kickoff return to Danieal Manning to open the game and another big return in the second quarter as the Texans scored a touchdown that gave them new life and momentum to cut the lead to 17-13 at the half.

The way Slater has handled himself in the five years he’s been with the Patriots hasn’t gone unnoticed by Belichick. He was voted special teams captain last year and earned the honor again this year. Slater, says Belichick, is the perfect candidate to stabilize the unit on the field.

“Matt has done a great job for us,” Belichick said on Friday. “He’€™s taken that role’€¦in my time here I’€™ve been very fortunate to have two outstanding, I mean exemplary, players at leadership positions on special teams with Larry Izzo and Matt Slater. I thought that really when we had Larry that that was, there’€™d never be another one like that, that that was so rare and Matt’€™s different than Larry but I think in his own way equally effective. Matt’€™s really, he’€™s tremendous. His attitude, his work ethic, the example that he sets, the way he interacts with his teammates in a really good way.

“I don’€™t know that a player could do anymore than what he’€™s done for us in that role for the last several years, probably since after his second year. He’€™s embraced his role on the team, he’€™s been very good at it and he e makes other players around him better. I think that’€™s a great compliment to him and the job he does. He’€™s smart, he’€™s well prepared, he works hard, he has good skill, good talent, he’€™s tough, he’€™s a good playmaker for us. I could go on about him all day. We’€™re lucky to have him on this football team. He does a tremendous job for us.”

Slater’s attitude about putting the past in the past and keeping it there, after a game like last week, is exactly what Belichick is looking for. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Jacoby Jones
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski lead a Patriots parade of Pro Bowlers 12.26.12 at 7:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Another playoff season, another record-setting campaign of offense and another season of heavy Patriots representation on the AFC squad at the Pro Bowl. Now, all the Patriots want more is to politely decline the invites for the seven players because they’ll be getting ready for the Super Bowl, as was the case last season.

Quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, left guard Logan Mankins, inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, special teams captain Matthew Slater, wide receiver Wes Welker and nose tackle Vince Wilfork have been selected to represent the Patriots and the AFC in the 2013 Pro Bowl.

‘€œIt is flattering to be selected, but I have always considered Pro Bowl recognition as a reflection of the team’€™s overall success,” Brady said. “I am happy for my many teammates who were selected again this year. I know that there are many others who are equally deserving of the opportunity. One day, I am sure I will have a greater appreciation for individual accomplishments, but this week my focus is simply on our preparations for Miami.’€

Here is a sampling of other Pro Bowlers from Wednesday:

Wilfork: To be selected to my fifth Pro Bowl is amazing. I am honored and humbled. More importantly, I am proud that the other guys on my team are getting the recognition they deserve.

Mayo: It’€™s an honor to be recognized by my peers, the coaches and the fans, but it’€™s more of an honor to be one of seven of my teammates going to Hawaii, since that is a reflection of our overall team success. We’€™ll all enjoy the recognition tonight with our families and be right back to focusing on the Dolphins in the morning.

Slater: I am very thankful to be selected to the Pro Bowl. God has blessed me with this opportunity and the ability to stay healthy. I have a lot of people to thank. An honor like this does not come without your teammates next to you making plays. I want to thank coach Belichick for believing in me and taking a chance on me so I can live out my childhood dreams of playing in the NFL. Coach Scott O’€™Brien has pretty much changed my career with the way he teaches and coaches me. I also need to thank Joe Judge for what he has been able to teach me.

Mankins: We have a lot of guys who earned the honor this year, so that is pretty cool. It’€™s always nice to have your peers, coaches and fans select you to the Pro Bowl. Getting voted in is always a reflection of our team success. While I do appreciate this recognition, we need to get ready and keep our focus on the game this week against Miami.

No one on the Patriots has more experience accepting the honor than Brady. It is his eighth Pro Bowl selection (2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012). Mankins (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012), Welker (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) and Wilfork (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) are next at five apiece.

Gronkowski and Slater earned their second straight Pro Bowl invitations, while Mayo (2010 and 2012) also earned a Pro Bowl berth for the second time.

Gronkowski, Mankins, Mayo and Wilfork were selected as starters.

The Pro Bowl will be played on Jan. 27, 2013 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, and the Patriots are hoping they won’t be available for the game because the Super Bowl is one week later in New Orleans.

Brady was named to the Pro Bowl for the eighth time, including four straight seasons. John Hannah (9) is the only Patriots player with more Pro Bowls than Brady. Brady enters the final week of the season with 4,543 yards passing and 32 touchdowns. Brady became just the fifth player in NFL history to reach 4,000 yards in five or more seasons and the fifth player with at least 30 or more touchdown passes in four seasons. Brady needs one touchdown pass in the season finale vs. Miami to extend his streak to 48 straight games with at least one touchdown pass and move past Johnny Unitas (47) for the second longest streak behind Drew Brees (54). He will also become the first NFL player to throw at least one touchdown pass in all 16 games for three consecutive seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Jerod Mayo, Logan Mankins, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots
Fab Five: The most underrated Patriots 12.04.12 at 5:51 pm ET
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While the Patriots have their share of high-profile superstars, each man in the locker room will tell you that it takes 53 players — and sometimes more, when you add in the practice squadders — to make a team. To that end, here’€™s our pick for the five most underrated Patriots — the unheralded guys who don’€™t get the headlines like some of their counterparts, but who are just as integral to the success of the franchise on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.

Tight end Daniel Fells: The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder has assumed the same role that Alge Crumpler had in 2010 — an older tight end who has served as something of a steadying, veteran presence for younger Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And while he hasn’€™t had much of a statistical impact (he has three catches on nine targets for 77 yards this season), with the recent injury to Gronkowski, he has seen a sizable uptick in his playing time. He was on the field for 103 of a possible 151 snaps over the last two weeks, and while he didn’€™t have the same impact that Gronkowski has, he was essentially doing his job as an end of the line blocker. Most importantly, he was a consistent presence on the field during New England’€™s 16-play series in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, the best offensive sequence of the season for the Patriots.

Running back Danny Woodhead: Woodhead appears so often on these types of underrated lists, he might actually be perfectly rated, but there are few more versatile options in the New England offense. He’€™s the only guy on the team with at least 25 carries and 25 receptions — he has 58 rushes and 26 catches through 12 games. (The last Patriots player to go over 25/25 in the same year was Kevin Faulk in 2009 — he finished that year with 62 carries and 37 receptions.) He’€™s also the most dependable receiver on the team — he has 26 catches on 32 targets, and his 81 percent reception rate is the best on the team among pass catchers with at least 10 receptions. He’€™s seen a recent downturn in snaps (particularly with the recent emergence of Shane Vereen as an option in the passing game), but he remains a steady third-down option. In the wake of the injury to Julian Edelman, the 5-foot-8, 200-pounder could see more action as the regular-season comes to a close.

Center Ryan Wendell: A part-time interior offensive lineman over the course of his first three seasons with the Patriots, the undrafted free agent out of Fresno State stepped into a starting role for the first time this year and has become one of New England’€™s most dependable offensive linemen. Taking over for veteran Dan Koppen (who was released shortly before the start of the regular season), Wendell has been the centerpiece of one of the best offensive lines in football. Pro Football Focus says the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder is one of the best centers in the league — his grade of +16.2 when it comes to run blocking is best in the league, and his overall grade of +14.4 through the first 12 games of the season is third on the New England offense (he trails only Tom Brady and Gronkowski). In addition, on an offensive line that’€™s seen it’€™s share of injury, Wendell has held up very nicely. His 924 offensive snaps this season is second on the offense to left tackle Nate Solder (927).

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Daniel Fells, Danny Woodhead, Matthew Slater, Ryan Mallett
There’s something special about these Patriots 11.26.12 at 10:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots have always preached the value of special teams, and this year is no exception.

‘€œWe really look at the special teams as being a third of the game,’€ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on a conference call Monday afternoon. ‘€œThe field position part of it is huge, trying to start offensively on a shorter field or play defensively on a longer field, as well as taking advantage of our scoring opportunities on the field-goal team and making game-changing plays in the kicking game. That’€™s always one of our goals every week.’€

Belichick said that it all starts with good field position, an area where the Patriots done well, thanks in large part to kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Zoltan Mesko and the coverage units. According to Football Outsiders, through 11 games, New England’€™s opponents have averaged the worst average starting field position in the league (an average of the 23.18-yard line).

Meanwhile, the Patriots’€™ average drive has started on the 30.05-yard line, seventh-best in the league. (By way of comparison, the Giants lead the league in starting field position, opening drives at the 31.27.)

‘€œField position is huge ‘€“ trying to start offensively on a shorter field or trying to play defensively on a longer field, as well as taking advantage of our scoring opportunities on the field goal team and making plays, game changing plays in the kicking game, which is one of our goals every week,’€ he said.

‘€œStatistically, that field position edge eventually comes into play, not necessarily on any individual series or possession, but over the long haul. We all know the importance of field position and scoring opportunities and making big plays in the kicking game.’€

On Monday, Belichick lauded the work of his special teamers — as well as the two special teams coaches — for the role they have played over the course of New England’€™s recent five-game winning streak.

‘€œI think that Scott and Joe Judge, our two special-teams coaches, do a great job of coaching the players,’€ he said. ‘€œTaking the young guys and improving them, watching some of our younger guys perform for us in the kicking game, as well as some of our veteran players, bringing it all together.’€

That work has manifested itself throughout the course of the season with great field position, but it’€™s also shown up in the box score the last two games. Two weeks ago, Julian Edelman had a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in a win over the Colts. Last Thursday, Edelman scored when Devin McCourty forced a fumble off a kick return from New York’€™s Joe McKnight.

‘€œI think those are huge momentum plays,’€ said special teams captain Matthew Slater. ‘€œWhen you look at a game, you’€™re not counting on special teams to score every game — it’€™s just not realistic for that to happen. But when it does happen, it brings a huge momentum swing to the game. In the case of the last two weeks it’€™s been huge for us, as far as getting momentum going and allowing us to get some separation against our opponent.’€

While Slater isn’€™t the one scoring touchdowns, Belichick celebrated his hard work and ability to create some consistency among the special teamers.

‘€œMatt Slater has done a great job as the captain of the special teams with his leadership and making it a total cohesive unit even though it’€™s six different units but it’€™s still more players on all of them,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œHe’€™s doing a great job with that this year.’€

‘€œWe’€™re a very close-knit group of guys,’€ said the 27-year-old Slater, who was named a Pro Bowler last year for his special teams skills. ‘€œWe understand what our role is in this league, we understand how we’€™re going to keep jobs in this league, and we take a lot of pride in what we do.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Matthew Slater, Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko
Matthew Slater on the Jets: ‘We don’t have too many fond feelings towards them’ 10.16.12 at 8:52 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Matthew Slater knows all about big-time rivalries. Before joining the Patriots in 2008 and jumping right into the Patriots-Jets bi-annual border war, he played at UCLA and waited all season to play the crosstown Trojans of USC.

This week – Jets week – has a similar feel to him.

“You almost get the feel you’re in college and you’re playing your rival school,” Slater said. “So, I feel like I’m playing USC for me, personally. But the rivalry here, it doesn’t really matter what the records are. It just so happens were both 3-3 at this point. They want to beat us and we want to beat them. We don’t have too many fond feelings towards them and the same goes for them. They’re not too crazy about us either.

“I think in the spirit of the game it’s good to have rivalries like this, and for the popularity of the game to see two good teams get after it. I’m sure it’ll be no different this week.”

Slater realizes what’s on the line this week as the Patriots and Jets try to break free from a four-team 3-3 deadlock in the AFC East.

“Last I checked, we’re deadlocked at 3-3,” Slater said. “It just goes to show you that teams are vastly improved in our division and well-coached and there are good players out there. This is the National Football League, it’s very competitive league and right now, I think it’s safe to say we’re in the most competitive division. Hey, nothing is going to be given to us. We’re going to have to earn it from here on out.”

Slater injured his right leg covering a punt with under four minutes left in the fourth quarter. He got up and celebrated the big hit on Leon Washington (former Jet of course) that pinned the Seahawks at their own 10.

He slapped his helmet and popped up and down before suddenly limping, favoring his right leg.

“Things happen in football. Injuries occur,” Slater said Tuesday in front of his locker. “My focus is trying to get on the field and preparing this week and trying to help us beat the Jets.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Leon Washington, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots, New York Jets
Vince Wilfork on refs: ‘I don’t care about [anything] but Buffalo’ 09.27.12 at 1:15 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It was a fairly predictable response Thursday. Nearly all players in the Patriots locker room had a very low-key reaction to the eight-year agreement between the NFL and its regular officials Wednesday night that ended one of the ugliest chapters in recent league history.

“My focus is on the Buffalo Bills, nothing else. Buffalo,” Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “I don’t care about [anything] but Buffalo right now, plain and simple. We need to get back on track around here. Kind of forgot how it feels to win. All of my focus is on going to Buffalo and playing well. Hopefully, that’ll be good enough to win, so everything else, I really don’t care about.

“We have to focus quick because this team always plays us tough and it always seems like the first time we see them, they play us very, very tough. They’re very disciplined; they’re coached very well, play very hard, they make a lot of plays, and once again we’re on the road. Our backs are against the wall.”

Special teams captain Matthew Slater offered a little bit more insight. Slater this year replaced Tom Brady as the team’s player rep, so when the NFL Players Association spoke of player safety concerns, Slater was the one delivering the message to teammates.

“It’s obviously encouraging that they got that whole situation resolved,” Slater said. “It was really a tough situation for all parties involved. I don’t really think you can point the finger at anyone. Fortunately, they got it worked out, but we can’t spend too much time worrying about who’s calling the game, we just have to continue to prepare and do our jobs. I’m sure at some point we’re going to be mad or upset with a call these guys make. That’s just the reality of it. So, we just have to move on, but I’m happy things have resolved themselves, though.

“I think that’s big for us as players, to know that we’re out there with guys that are going to do their best to keep us safe by making the right calls, and it really comes down to player safety. We want to be safe out there on that field. We want to make sure the rules are being abided by and that we are taken care of and the game is fair for everybody involved.”

Slater was asked if it feels strange to be so happy to have regular officials back, officials players will no doubt have beefs with in the future.

“It does, definitely,” Slater said with a laugh. “”Those guys have a tough job to do. I know there were a lot of situations that came up with guys that were in there for them but they were put in a tough spot, they really were, and they did the best they could. But it’s good to have these guys back who’ve had some experience calling big games and been in tough situations, and now we’re all moving forward.”

The response of Nate Solder was more representative of the Patriots’ reaction.

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Solder said with a laugh.

Asked if he’s confident that the returning officials will have a better sense of what’s happening in the trenches, the left tackle was non-committal.

“I’m not going to say much about that. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that,” Solder said.

Read More: Buffalo Bills, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots, nfl
Matthew Slater: ‘We can’t hang our heads’ with ‘amped’ Ravens up next 09.17.12 at 6:36 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater is one of the most friendly faces in the Patriots locker room.

But he had no intention of talking about the blocked punt or missed field goal from Sunday that combined to spell disaster in Sunday’s 20-18 loss to the Cardinals at Gillette Stadium.

“No, we didn’t dwell on it,” Slater said of his special teams meeting Monday with the coaching staff. “No need beating a dead horse. We know, obviously, we can’t do that and we’re going to get beat if we continue to experience plays like that. It’s just a matter of going back to our fundamentals and the techniques we’re taught in training camp. I’m confident it’ll be fixed.”

The added motivation for moving forward this week is the upcoming opponent. The Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night in Baltimore in a rematch of last January’s classic AFC championship game at Gillette that propelled the Patriots onto Super Bowl XLVI.

“They have great leadership over there,” Slater said. “They play the game the right way. They’re coached very well. We know we’re going to have our hands full as we do every time we play them. If there’s thing that we know, we need to prepare to play a physical football game. There’s going to be a lot of hitting involved. So, you know that going in playing this team. I’m sure they’re going to be amped up, Sunday night football at their house. We can’t hang our heads from [Sunday]. It’s time to pick up the pieces and move forward and get ready for these guys.”

Another topic that was off-limits Monday was improving the work ethic during practice, something several players hinted after Sunday’s loss was missing last week.

“I really don’t want to address that one, to be honest with you,” Slater said. “We just have to go out and practice hard and do the right things.

“We’re moving on. You know I’m going to talk about that. We saw what happened and we have to learn from it and hopefully we can improve upon it going forward because I’m sure we’re going to see similar things, similar rushes from teams and they’re going to try and get after us. It’s been corrected and we’re going to move on.”

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots, nfl
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