Matthew Slater knelt in the end zone, his arms outstretched wide with one of them holding the football. His teammates quickly surrounded him to congratulate after he had just scored the first touchdown of his pro football career. It had taken the New England Patriots’ team captain 12 seasons in the league and a combined 184 regular season and playoff games to accomplish this feat, but against the Buffalo Bills it finally happened.
It all started with a Bills punt attempt in the first quarter. J.C. Jackson, who also registered two interceptions on defense, rushed off the edge to get to Corey Bojorquez before the Bills punter could get the football out cleanly. Jackson blocked the kick and Slater was able to catch the football in stride and return it 10 yards for the score. The touchdown gave the Patriots a 13-0 lead early in the game, and Slater his first taste of an NFL end zone.
“I’m really thankful,” the 34-year-old told ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss in the locker room after New England’s 16-10 win. “Thank God for putting me in the right place at the right time. I think as a kid you always dream about scoring a touchdown. I certainly still feel like a kid even though I’m an old guy now. Just so thankful to be able to be a part of that. Jerald made a great play, and [I’m] just thankful to be in the right place at the right time.”
Slater being in the right spot to scoop up the ball and take it to the proverbial house did not just happen by accident, however. Few players in the league have the same experience in the kicking game, after all, and the veteran was able to recognize the situation quickly and react accordingly: he calmly made a play on the football in traffic after it popped up into the air following Jackson’s block, and returned it quickly for six points.
The former fifth-round draft pick, who is listed as a wide receiver but has only one career reception on his résumé, was not the only Patriot to feel good about the score. Quarterback Tom Brady, for example, also spoke about Slater’s touchdown during his postgame press conference: “That was great. I was hoping to throw him one at some point. He might have had a shot in ‘11 on a post [route], but he kind of fell down as he caught it.”
“It was great seeing him get into the end zone,” continued Brady, who has played alongside Slater ever since he joined the Patriots out of UCLA in 2008. One year before joining New England, by the way, he had scored his last touchdown until today: serving as the Bruins’ kickoff returner, Slater had an 89-yard runback for a score. The date was November 10, 2007. Almost 12 years later, he has now added another one to his name.