Slater's resumé, which includes seven Pro Bowl selections and four first team All-Pro selections, is as good as any special teams ace in league history. The 34-year-old veteran proved his value yet again Sunday in the Patriots' 30-14 win over the New York Jets with a remarkable play in the fourth quarter.
Patriots punter Jake Bailey booted a punt high towards the goal line and Slater got to the ball and kept it out of the end zone so his teammates could down it at the 1-yard line. Check out the impressive play in the video below:
🚨 SPECIAL TEAMS HIGHLIGHT 🚨 pic.twitter.com/x41RWaePfk
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 22, 2019
"That was a really tough play because you have to respect the returner," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "You don't want to run past him and let him catch the ball and return it, so Matt did a great job of recognizing that the ball was going to go over Braxton's head and then was able to find it and make the play and keep it inbounds.
"It's tough to catch those as punts. It's even harder to run from the line of scrimmage and turn around and handle them or keep it out of the end zone. Matt's probably the best in the game at that. He's had a lot of great plays, works very hard at it in practice. It's great to see that practice work pay off, but he gave us a lot of leadership out there today. We were missing a few guys on special teams and Matt stepped up like he always does."
The Patriots take special teams more seriously than any other team in the league, and their success in this phase of the game is a huge part of their consistent success.
New England's punt coverage Sunday played a key role in New York starting so many drives deep inside their own territory. In fact, four of Bailey's six punts went out of bounds or were downed inside the 20-yard line. Forcing the Jets offense to go nearly the length of the field time and time again with a third-string quarterback under center was an ideal situation for the Patriots defense.
The Patriots spend a lot of time fine-tuning their special teams play on the practice field. Bailey is a rookie, so he doesn't have a ton of experience with Slater or any of the other Patriots special teams players. There's a lot more work to go for this unit before it reaches its full potential, but the early results have been encouraging, to say the least.
"We practice that a lot," Slater said. "Obviously, Jake and I have had to start working at it a lot more. We haven't had a lot of time working at it together, but we've spent a lot of time at it, and he gave me a ball that I could play. We try to make a play on it, and it's nice to be able to contribute in a good team win like that."
Matthew Slater shows special teams brilliance in Patriots' win over Jets originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston