The NFL announced its 2021 Pro Bowl rosters on Monday, and three members of the New England Patriots made the cut. While punter Jake Bailey received his first nomination to the all-star game, cornerback Stephon Gilmore was voted in for the third straight year and fourth time overall. And then, there is Matthew Slater.
No current Patriot has made the Pro Bowl more often than the team captain. In fact, no other special teamer in NFL history has earned the honor more often than Slater, who has now made the cut nine times — extending his own record.
While name recognition always plays a role when it comes to Po Bowl voting, Slater making this year’s roster did not come as a surprise. He is still on the top of his game even at age 35, after all: he is routinely the first player down the field on punt and kickoff returns, and has helped make some key tackles and blocks this season. He is a key reason why New England’s kicking game units are among the best in the league year-in and year-out.
Tuesday’s announcement that he has made yet another Pro Bowl therefore once again shines the light on his achievements and legendary career — one that might eventually earn him the status of greatest special teams player ever. At least one notable football historian already thinks that he holds the title: his own head coach, Bill Belichick.
Belichick was asked during a media conference call on Tuesday about Slater’s accomplishments in a historical context, and his answer was telling.
“It’s got to be at the top,” New England’s head coach said. “I can’t think of anybody that’s done more than he has and that’s done it over a very consistent period of time at an extremely high level, in addition to all the other qualities that he brings off the field — leadership, just doing the right thing, just the person and the human being that he is. But, his competitiveness on the field... He’s a great teammate, just outstanding in all areas.
“It would be hard for me to imagine anybody going ahead of him. We’ve had some great players here and I’ve had some great players through my career — in Cleveland, going back to the Giants — but, he’s certainly the very best that I’ve ever been around and that we’ve had to play against, as well. His consistency is outstanding, but he factors in on a lot of plays.”
This season, Slater again is a key member of the Patriots. He is ranked second on the team in kicking game snaps with 284 (just two behind leader Justin Bethel), has registered five tackles, and has taken on an even bigger leadership role following the departure of long-time starting quarterback Tom Brady during the offseason.
While New England as a whole has played some up-and-down football this year, Slater has been a model of consistency. Just as he has been throughout his entire 13-year career.