It has been said many times that football is the ultimate team game. To win, it takes a total team effort. The talent has to be there; as does the game-planning, coaching and even a bit of luck. However one of the most important elements of success in football, as in life, is having faith. Successful teams almost always credit their prosperity to employing players that demonstrate enormous faith in each other. That faith may come from a number of sources.
For Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots, it’s simply a part of being a team captain. Better yet, it is an integral part of being a great teammate.
With former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady set to return to Foxboro on Sunday, October 3 (wearing the uniform of the defending Super Bowl Champion-Tampa Bay Buccaneers) emotions will be at a fever pitch. Slater knows all too well the distraction that such feelings may cause, especially for a Patriots team that is seeking a return to the win column. The Pats currently sit at 1-2 on the 2021 season, presently licking their wounds from a 28-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week Three.
Still, Slater is steadfast in his faith that his team is capable of putting its best foot forward. Simply put, it starts with having faith in each other.
“The ability to turn things around always comes from the character of the team that you have,” Slater told reporters on Monday. “It translates to improvement on the football field…coming together when you face adversity…we have to stick together…believe in each other, fight for one another. And we all have to put in the effort.”
For Slater and the Patriots, that effort will begin immediately, as the team shifts its attention to the Bucs, and their impending week four matchup on Sunday. Though he was specifically asked about the team’s surprising struggles on special teams, the captain’s comments ring true, regarding the team as a whole.
“We haven't played the way we have hoped this year…but, we have had rough starts in the past.” Slater stated. “It may only be Week Three, but we can’t fall back on that. The urgency needs to pick up, as does the preparation in practice. The importance of every play is very high. There isn’t just one thing [for us] to put our finger on. We need better execution…better attention to detail and improvement in all areas.”
Attempting to pick up the pieces from a demoralizing loss is hard enough for a team under any circumstances. However, that level of difficulty is only further elevated when adding in the drama of the return of a franchise legend who is, was and forever will be beloved by all true Patriots fans. While the temptation for distraction will be heightened, Slater sees a potential teaching moment for his team.
“This is an opportunity for us to learn to control the things we can control,” Slater added. “We need to go out and compete. [Our focus] should be about preparing, focusing and going out to play winning football. Managing the off-field stuff along with it is a good challenge for our football team.”
Despite the importance of the task at hand, Slater is not indifferent to the obvious sentiments which he and his teammates will be feeling on Sunday. He is also more-than willing to show his affection for the man he proudly called a teammate for 12 years:
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Thomas [Brady],” Slater said of his friend and former teammate. “I couldn’t think more highly of anyone that’s ever played the game. As a friend, he has been kind to me, and my family…I’m very appreciative of that relationship. But I think this week, the New England Patriots need to focus on the New England Patriots. We need to focus on playing better football, more consistent football…and that really is the case every week. But for this week, we have to attempt to ignore the noise…play hard, practice hard all week, and be ready for Sunday.”
Slater also acknowledged that while it will be a bit odd to see Brady wearing a different uniform, he has learned to accept it as a part of the game which they play.
“I have been around this game my entire life. Players change teams. It's just like anything else…people change jobs, work for different companies…we tend to romanticize it, because it is sports. But that is a reality of any player that moves on. This is about preparing for a very good team, led by a very good player.”
Though Brady will be playing his first game in Foxboro as a visitor, Slater is well-aware that the former Pats franchise quarterback will be well-prepared for Sunday’s game. The level of success which Brady has achieved in Tampa has both surprised and impressed scores of NFL players, coaches, fans and media. However, do not count Matthew Slater as one that is taken aback by the 44-year-old, seven-time Super Bowl Champion’s accomplishments.
When asked his thoughts on Brady’s success, Slater replied “No, I’m not surprised. He is the greatest football player in the history of football. Nothing he does should surprise you [anyone].”