Matthew Slater says he would welcome another year as the Patriots’ player rep. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
1. Few guys in the Patriots locker room were as busy this week as special teams captain and players rep Matthew Slater. The UCLA product, who has served as the team’s player rep the last two seasons, has been keeping his teammates informed about the progress regarding a new drug policy. With the constant changes, it was a challenge to keep up with the latest information.
“It’s a responsibility that I take very seriously, because there’s a lot to keep our guys informed on,” said Slater, who was nominated for the job a few years back by quarterback Tom Brady. ‘There’s a lot of changes, a lot of things our players can take advantage of, but they have to have the knowledge and information. I think it’s very important to keep guys informed, to address questions. We have a great league and a great union that does lot to help our players. It’s about the reps helping the other players take full advantage of that. I take a lot of pride in that.”
Slater, who is the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, said the elections for player rep for the coming season will be held within the next month, but he’d welcome the chance to serve another term.
“It’s definitely an honor, because I feel like your teammates have to have a lot of trust and faith in you to uphold the duties and responsibilities of that position,” Slater added. “I have a passion for the union — I think because of my father’s experience in the league — and I have a passion for taking care of our retired players and making them feel like they’re still a part of this. I have a lot of things I’d like to see done, and hopefully, we can get them done.”
Slater believes that the new drug plan is a good one for both sides.
“As players, we’re getting a fair deal,” Slater said. “I really believe that. And I feel as though the league is getting us to be transparent and to be players of integrity. We’re going to be accountable for what we put in our bodies — as we should. I think it’s fair for all parties. I think it’s best for the shield. And at the end of the day, nobody’s bigger than the league, and nobody’s bigger than the integrity of the league.”
2. Through the first two games of the regular season, Brady has done well to steer clear of turnovers. Including the end of the 2013 season and into the playoffs, (as well as the first two games of the 2014 regular season) Brady has assembled a streak of 80 straight completed passes without an interception. It’s not anywhere near his record (his regular-season streak of 358 consecutive pass attempts without an interception between the 2010 and 2011 season is still the gold standard), but it’s a good start to the season for a quarterback and his relatively young receiving corps. Of the quarterbacks who have started at least two games in 2014, Brady is part of a group that includes Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer, Denver’s Peyton Manning, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick and Washington’s Robert Griffin III as QBs who have yet to throw an interception this season. (For what it’s worth, Brady and Hoyer are the only quarterback with at least 70 pass attempts who have yet to throw a pick this year.)
3. We touched on this a few times over the course of the week, but it bears repeating that when it comes to West Coast teams coming to the East Coast and playing one o’clock games, it rarely ends well for the road team. The four West Coast teams are a combined 43-83 in the Eastern Time zone over the last decade, according to STATS. (That includes a 14-game losing skid for the Raiders — their last win on the East Coast was Dec. 6, 2009 in Pittsburgh.) At 17-18 in East Coast games, the Chargers are the only team close to .500. Meanwhile, the Raiders (5-28) and Niners (10-18) have struggled — even the defending Super Bowl champs are just 11-19 in one o’clock starts on the East Coast over the last 10 years. The road has been particularly unkind for the Raiders this year — Sunday marks their second trip to the East Coast in three games. Oakland will follow up this weekend’s stop in New England with a trip to London for a game with the Dolphins. (Ultimately, the Raiders will travel a league-high 36,078 miles this season.) Oakland coach Dennis Allen is philosophical about his team playing another game that starts at 10 a.m. West Coast time. “Listen, the schedule is what the schedule is, and our job is to show up and try to win a football game, and that’s really what we’re focused on doing,” he said. “We’re not really focused on the travel.”
4. Vince Wilfork isn’t given over to empty platitudes, so it was interesting to hear him talk this week about the progression over the last year-plus of linebacker Dont’a Hightower. By Hightower’s own admission, he struggled last season (he was benched late in the regular-season win over the Broncos) but down the stretch, everything seemed to click for the Alabama product, and he played well into the playoffs. That’s carried over into the first two games of 2014, where he’s had nine tackles and two sacks. Wilfork said he wasn’t impressed by Hightower’s performance over the first two games, because he believes it’s been something that’s been in him all along. “I’m happy we have him and I’m glad he’s doing things the way he’s capable of doing them,” Wilfork said of Hightower. “We knew all along what he had, and he knew. Sometimes you have to put him in a situation for that to come out.”
5. September 21st marks the latest date on the calendar the Patriots have had a home opener since 2001. That year, they had their home opener at Foxboro Stadium against the Jets on Sept. 23. That fall, in the wake of Sept. 11, the NFL schedule was reconfigured slightly, as the Week 2 games were rescheduled for the weekend of Jan. 6, 2002. For New England, that meant moving its contest against the Panthers in Carolina from Sept. 16 to Jan. 6, 2002. (In 2003, New England’s home opener as also on Sept. 21, and also against the Jets.) Going into this weekend, the Patriots were one of three teams that had yet to play a home game — the Jaguars and Saints were also on the road for their first two games. However, like New England, will both be home Sunday for the first time all year.
6. As we alluded to in our game preview, Sunday will likely mark the final trip to Foxboro for defensive back Charles Woodson. The 37-year-old, who is in his 17th season in the NFL, will almost certainly be a Hall of Famer when he finally decides to retire, a classic defender who put together an impressive career. From this viewpoint — particularly after he reached his thirties — Woodson always struck us as a New England type of player, the sort of smart and heady individual Bill Belichick likes to acquire when they’re near the end of their career. He certainly passed Belichick’s “Rosevelt Colvin” test, gushing about his ability when given the slightest opportunity. “Outstanding. Outstanding,” Belichick said of Woodson in 2010. “He does everything well: man-to-man coverage, zone coverage, reads the quarterback well, has good anticipation of route and route combinations, outstanding ball skills, blitzer — [he's an] excellent blitzer [and] good run-force player. When he plays inside in the slot position, or even in the perimeter, he plays very well. … I think he’s as good and complete player in that position that you’ll find in the league.” A great player who will leave a lasting legacy in the NFL.
7. They’re feeling good in Buffalo, and for good reason, as the Bills have started the season 2-0. While there’s still plenty of football left to go, history tells us that teams who win the first two games of the season have an excellent shot at reaching the playoffs — since 1990, when the current postseason format was adopted, 124 of the 196 teams (63 percent) to start 2-0 have qualified for the postseason. Last week against the Dolphins, the Bills emerged with a decisive 29-10 home win over Miami. In that one, C.J. Spiller became the first player since 1973 to post a 100-plus yard kick return for a touchdown and a 45-plus yard run in the same game, while rookie receiver Sammy Watkins had his first career 100-yard game, ending up with eight catches for 117 yards. Of course, a fast start is no guarantee of success. The last time the Bills started 3-0 was 2011 — they suffered an unbelievable rash of injuries, won just three games the rest of the way and ended 6-10. But with Brandon Spikes Tweeting again (and the Buffalo Zoo naming a porcupine after the former Patriots linebacker), it appears that the sky is the limit when it comes to the Bills this year.
8. Looking ahead, Patriots’ fans should be watching what happens with the Chiefs this weekend. As of Saturday, Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles is a major question mark — he suffered a high ankle sprain in last week’s loss to the Broncos, and was limited at practice on Thursday and Friday. As of Saturday afternoon, Kansas City was holding out hope that he’ll be good to go for Sunday against the Dolphins. If Charles plays and plays well against Miami, that could change the face of next Monday’s game between the Patriots and Chiefs. A healthy Charles gives an added dimension to the Chiefs’ offense, and makes them that much more difficult to defend — last season, he led Kansas City with 1,287 rushing yards, and added 70 catches for 693 receiving yards. (He finished the year with a remarkable 19 touchdowns.) If he’s healthy, that will change the complexion of the game, at least as far as the Patriots are concerned.
9. It was revealed this week that St. Thomas Aquinas High in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., had topped the list of most high schoolers in the NFL as of 2014 kickoff weekend. They have 10 former players in the NFL, including Patriots rookie running back James White. He’s part of a group that includes Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins and Gio Bernard. Aquinas is far and away the leader — five schools are tied for second with five former players in the NFL. Overall, California tops the list of states with the most NFL players (213), followed by Florida (200) and Texans (172). That’s fairly similar to how things break down on the Patriots roster — as of Saturday afternoon, seven members of the active 53-man roster played high school ball in California. Mississippi (six), Illinois, Florida (five each) and Texas (four) round out the Top 5.
10. We’ve weighed in on this a few times — usually around the first week of August when the Pro Football Hall of Fame opens its doors to a new class — but in the wake of the Hall announcing its latest round of nominees for the 2015 class, it’s worth revisiting things from a Patriots perspective. Of the 99 players nominated this week, several have ties to New England, with Rodney Harrison, Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi the most notable. From this viewpoint, Harrison will engender some good debate, while McGinest and Bruschi will likely fall short. (Junior Seau was also a finalist, and while he didn’t play the bulk of his career in New England, he should make it.) As we said here, owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and kicker Adam Vinatieri will all eventually make it in, while Ty Law, Vince Wilfork and Wes Welker all figure to be right on the cusp of reaching Canton.