Slater humbled by Pro Bowl nod, prefers Super Bowl
By HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) -- Matt Slater is humbled by his second
straight Pro Bowl selection.
Just don't send him an airplane ticket to the game in Honolulu a week
before the Super Bowl.
''I'd rather be eating gumbo in New Orleans than pineapple in Hawaii,''
the New England Patriots special teams captain said Thursday.
Slater and six teammates were picked for the Pro Bowl on Wednesday, but
what he really wants is another trip to the championship game, this
time in Louisiana on Feb. 3.
He and his teammates made it to that game last season in Indianapolis,
where the cuisine isn't as renowned, and lost to the New York Giants
21-17. They've clinched the AFC East title this season and can finish
in any of the top four spots in the conference - with the first two
getting opening-round byes - after Sunday's finale against the Miami Dolphins.
The outcome of two of that day's early games - Houston at Indianapolis
and Baltimore at Cincinnati - will affect the Patriots' possibilities
even before their late game begins.
Slater said he won't pay much attention to them.
''It means nothing if we don't win our game so our focus is on playing
the Miami Dolphins,'' he said. ''We know the Miami Dolphins are going
to play us well no matter what their record is, no matter what our
The Patriots (11-4) are division champions for the fourth straight
season. The Dolphins (7-8) missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a
But Slater knows the unlikely can become reality, just like his career
did. The son of Jackie Slater, a tackle who was chosen for the Pro Bowl
seven times in his 20-year career, never started a game at UCLA.
''There were times where I wasn't sure'' he would reach the NFL, he
The Patriots took a chance, drafting Slater in the fifth round in 2008.
In training camp before the 2010 season, he was concerned he might be
''I just try to maintain faith and embrace my role over the years,
whatever it was, and kind of just found a niche special teams-wise,''
he said. ''It's been a fun ride and, more importantly, it's been fun
being a part of a winning organization.''
In his five seasons, the Patriots are 59-20 and never won fewer than 10
games in any of them. He's done his part by leading in special teams
tackles in three straight seasons. Now he's just one shy of his career
high of 21 set in 2010.
His success, and his recognition by his peers who picked him for the
Pro Bowl, has brought unwanted attention.
''There were a couple of times I felt like I was a marked man out
there,'' Slater said. Teams ''send a few extra guys your way. You might
see a few more double teams. You might encounter a little more smack
talk (but) it's hard to just isolate on me because we have so many good
players across the board.''
Slater speeds down field on coverage teams. He blocks on returns. He's
even the No. 2 kickoff returner behind Devin McCourty.
''He does everything,'' McCourty said. ''When you've got a guy like him
that can play almost every position on our special teams units at full
speed, 100 mph, he's just so disruptive in everything he does. ... We
all follow his lead. However he goes out there and plays is usually how
the whole unit will play.''
Not all plays work.
A critical failure came after the Patriots had rallied from a 31-3
deficit to tie San Francisco at 31 on Dec. 16. LaMichael James fielded
the kickoff at his goal line and returned it 62 yards. On the next
play, Colin Kaepernick threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree and the 49ers went on to win 41-34.
It was a painful lesson to relearn.
''It's a 60-minute ballgame. In our phase of the game at any point in
time a play can take place that changes the momentum and the outcome,''
Slater said. ''When we have a mistake on a special teams play, it's a
little more glaring and game changing than if somebody misses a block
or drops the ball where we could get it on second down, we could get it
on third down.
''There is no third down, no fourth down. It's a one-down deal and I
think we learned that our urgency and our level of execution need to be
there every single play.''
Slater has made enough good plays to be chosen for his second Pro Bowl.
He'd just prefer to be traveling to New Orleans while that game is
being played in Honolulu on Jan. 27.
''I didn't get to go last year,'' he said with a smile. ''Hopefully, I
won't get to go this year.''
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