FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. How Slater inspires his teammates: When Patriots players gathered around captain Matthew Slater in the locker room after beating the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, as part of a team tradition following a victory, safety Devin McCourty said Slater’s message was about the difference between opinions and truth. Newcomer Mohamed Sanu said it was probably the best speech he has heard in his eight-year NFL career.
I asked Slater how he decides what to say after each victory.
“There are a lot of things you try to consider. How the week has gone. Some of the themes of the week. Things we’ve talked about as a football team. How the game has gone, obviously. And I think, for me a lot of times in my quiet time, it’s from the things I read, I’m inspired by that quite a bit. Most of it is Scripture,” Slater said in the days leading up to Sunday’s road game against the Baltimore Ravens (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). “It just kind of comes to me. I try to be as authentic with it as I can.”
After Sunday’s game, Mohamed Sanu said Matthew Slater’s post-game speech was probably the best he had ever heard. I followed up with him to ask him why. pic.twitter.com/6YRwXM4cDX
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) November 1, 2019
While flattered to hear his words were received so favorably by Sanu, the 34-year-old Slater said he would be uncomfortable with any reference that made postgame speeches about him.
“It’s certainly humbling to think that your words can affect someone in a positive way, but at the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s about this football team, and us being together, feeling like we’re connected in this together,” he said. “I hope that never becomes something that is a self-serving thing. It’s really about me trying to serve my teammates the best way I can, and use words to keep us together.”
Safety Terrence Brooks, who has played for the Ravens, Eagles and Jets, is in his first season with the Patriots and said the postgame chats from Slater are unlike anything he’s seen before.
“You get a lot of guys who want to give pep talks after games, but when you have Slater coming in after a win, and see his outlook on everything, and how he connects with all the individuals in the locker room, it’s an awesome experience,” he said. “Sometimes you need those little life talks.”
As for how Slater became the player with that responsibility, he reflected on the 2011 season, his fourth with the team.
“I’m always a little fuzzy on the details there, but I remember in 2011 kind of speaking up when we were getting ready to play the Jets. I think a lot of us had strong feelings about the way our season had ended the year before, losing to them in the divisional round,” Slater said. “I think I spoke up for the first time, which was a little bit risky. But I felt strongly about it. Somewhere along those lines, [captain] Jerod [Mayo] was like, ‘You got it.’ I’ve tried to carry the torch the best I can.”
2. Brady’s quote of the week: As for where quarterback Tom Brady draws some of his inspiration, he shared a quote this past week that reflected his present mindset as speculation about his playing future swirled in media circles: “Someone told me, ‘The past and future are in the mind. I’m in the now.’ I think that’s a great way to live life.” That came up during Brady’s weekly interview on Westwood One radio.
3. Did You Know: Receiver Julian Edelman enters Sunday night’s game with 552 regular-season receptions. He needs six to pass Troy Brown (557) for second place on the Patriots’ all-time list. Brown, of course, hopes Edelman passes him quickly, as he’s now serving as an assistant coach on Bill Belichick’s staff. Wes Welker (672) holds the top spot.
4. Roberts’ fullback duties take back seat to defense: Linebacker Elandon Roberts has been helping fill the Patriots’ void at fullback on the goal line the past two weeks, but one point he made clear to me is that those added responsibilities haven’t taken anything away from his regular prep week on defense. He’s still a full-time participant in defensive and linebacker meetings, viewing himself as a linebacker first and foremost, and anything he does fullbackwise comes as an “extra.” In other words, he’s happy to do anything that helps the team, but isn’t interested in a full-time position switch.
5. ‘Scallop’ technique for defenders: Tackling wasn’t at its usual level for Patriots defenders in Sunday’s win against the Browns, and the weekly Patriots All-Access program had an insightful segment on how Belichick teaches it. During the rain-soaked game, Belichick implored his defenders while reminding them, “Good leverage, breakdown, scallop and tackle!” Other than a saltwater shellfish, what is a scallop? It’s another word to describe the base Belichick wants players to have — with their lower body — before they make the tackle.
6. Harris on the Vereen/White rookie plan: Rookie running back Damien Harris (third round, Alabama) is following the same path as Shane Vereen (2011) and James White (2014). It’s easy to forget that Vereen and White hardly played as rookies before becoming key cogs, and that seemed to be the point that running backs coach Ivan Fears made when asked last week. Harris has been active for two games this season, with Sony Michel, White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden ahead of him. The value that Burkhead and Bolden provide on special teams gives them a clearer path to a spot on the game-day roster, but with Burkhead in the final year of his contract, there should be a greater opening for Harris in 2020.
Video: Checking in with RBs coach Ivan Fears on the progress of rookie Damien Harris, who has been a consistent game-day inactive. pic.twitter.com/hUK5b5W6bb
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 28, 2019
7. Gostkowski on the mend: Veteran kicker Stephen Gostkowski underwent successful surgery on his hip, and was back at Gillette Stadium over the past week. He still has a locker set up at the facility, similar to others on injured reserve, such as David Andrews and James Andrews, both of whom are active participants in meetings. The Patriots’ struggle to fill Gostkowski’s void this season highlights how good the team has had it during Belichick’s tenure, going from Adam Vinatieri to Gostkowski. They now hope Nick Folk can get into a groove after parting ways with Mike Nugent.
8. Lookahead to 2020 with draft pick Cajuste: The Patriots have had a run of injuries along the offensive line this season, and any hope that third-round draft pick Yodny Cajuste — an offensive tackle from West Virginia — might have been able to help plug the void seems lost. Cajuste had quadriceps surgery after the draft and has been on the non-football injury list all season. Asked if this would be a redshirt year for Cajuste, offensive-line coach Dante Scarnecchia said this past week: “That’s probably a pretty good way of approaching or saying it. He’s probably not ready to do anything and probably won’t be until next year. That’s the way I see it.”
9. Belichick’s sons help him stay younger: During a week in which Belichick didn’t close the door on coaching into his 70s — which was a change from the past — he shared with SiriusXM NFL Radio how having his sons Steve and Brian on staff helps him keep a younger mindset. Belichick explained to hosts Bob Papa and Charlie Weis that as he gets generally further away from players, having younger coaches can help him bridge the gap. Furthermore, he said Steve and Brian will sometimes ask him why he’s gone away from certain things they remember from the past, which makes him re-think his approach.
10. When the Patriots’ defense = Aaron Rodgers: For those who play fantasy football, having the Patriots’ defense has been a bonanza through eight games. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, New England’s defense/special teams have scored 164 points in fantasy this season, which is 59 more than any other team. In PPR scoring (aka points per reception leagues), it would rank 11th among all players, and right on par with the Packers quarterback (164.7).