Whether or not the New England Patriots end up making the postseason for a 12th year in a row remains to be seen, but they are certainly not going down without a fight. Despite starting the regular season with a 2-5 record, they have bounced back nicely lately by going 4-1 over their last five contests and positioning themselves for a late push.
New England’s Week 13 game against the Los Angeles Chargers was further confirmation of that. While the Chargers did enter the contest with a 3-8 record, they have played some quality football this year behind Offensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner Justin Herbert at quarterback. Sunday’s game, however, saw them completely outcoached and outplayed in all three phases en route to a 45-0 Patriots victory.
Needless to say that it was a statement win for New England regardless of opposition, and a proof that the club finally seems to be hitting its stride — something Matthew Slater also pointed out in its aftermath.
“Football’s such a funny thing, and that’s why you can never really predict what’s going to happen,” Slater said. “The game is very unpredictable. I think for us, it’s my belief that we’re starting to find our identity, and who we are, and how we’re going to have to win. As a team when you understand that then you’re going to operate and move with purpose; you can act decisively and go out and play the game the way you need to play it.
“I think that was a process for us. There has been a great deal of turnover, you lose some key guys. It’s just been a process for us finding out who we are and how we need to do it. Maybe it took a little longer than we would have liked, but I still believe in the culture that we have here — it starts with our head coach, ownership. The culture we have is very sustainable if you do it the right way.”
While culture alone is not going to win games, it can build a strong foundation capable of withstanding even the biggest of challenges — be they the offseason departure of the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, a Coronavirus outbreak midway through the regular season, or a string of uncharacteristically sloppy performances during a four-game losing streak.
The Patriots’ special teams units led by the team captain Slater were not immune to those inconsistencies earlier this year as well. At best they were underwhelming, at worst actively hurting New England’s field position. Against the Chargers, however, they too played a big role with Gunner Olszewski returning a punt 70 yards for a touchdown and a blocked field goal attempt being run back for another score by Devin McCourty.
Naturally, Slater felt good about the outing as he expressed following the game.
“I think today was a great example of who we felt like we were all year,” the veteran said. “We have great players here, and we’re finally putting it together. I’m pleased with the way we’ve played the last couple of weeks — How could you not be? — but I’m more pleased with the buy-in and the belief of our guys, the effort, the preparation. When yo-you do all those things the right way, eventually, it’s going to show up in the game.
“We’ve been doing that the right way the last month or so here, and thankfully it’s starting to pay off for us.”