You should be reading the first Fan Notes from the Preseason article of the year today. The Patriots were supposed to play last night, and we all should have enjoyed a rousing game of “Who the Hell is That Guy?” and “Why Are There Four #22 Jerseys on the Field Right Now?” Instead, here we are, still football-less, and still a month to go until the opening night game that’s 100% going to happen, no question about it. So may as well get back to our countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2019.
We’re into the Top Three Now, The Three most memorable moments of the entire year. No room for error anymore.
The list so far:
20. The Patriots draft N’Keal Harry.
19. The Patriots trade for Mohammed Sanu.
18. Josh Gordon breaks three tackles to score the first Patriots touchdown of the 2019 season.
17. The kicker carousel.
16. A Kyle van Noy scoop and score ices the game against the New York Giants.
15. The refs screw the Pats out of not one, but two touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs.
14. The Patriots play the Jets twice - and the defense shuts them out twice.
13. The Patriots force four interceptions as they dominate the Cincinnati Bengals and secure a playoff spot.
12. Julian Edelman hits Philip Dorsett in the end zone to help lift the Patriots over the Eagles.
11. N’Keal Harry scores his first NFL touchdown with a back shoulder grab against the Dallas Cowboys.
10. The Patriots force three turnovers on three straight plays against the Cleveland Browns.
9. Tom Brady becomes the 2nd All-Time passing yards leader in a Week 6 win over the New York Giants.
8. The Patriots sign Antonio Brown
7. Rex Burkhead finds some nice redemption with the go-ahead touchdown against the Buffalo Bills to clinch the AFC East
6. Lawrence Guy manages to intercept a handoff in a game against the Cleveland Browns.
5. Stephon Gilmore and Jamie Collins pick sixes highlight an absolute beatdown of the Miami Dolphins.
4. Linebacker turned fullback Elandon Roberts turns his first NFL reception into a 38 yard touchdown against the Miami Dolphins.
It’s crazy how little the star of Moment #3 has appeared on these countdowns over the years...so it’s great to give him his due here.
3. A blocked punt leads to Matthew Slater’s first NFL touchdown against the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills are good this year! They have a defense and a QB! This will finally be the year that Buffalo takes out New England for the AFC East Crown!
I’ve lost track of how many times that narrative dominated the June, July, and August headlines, only to come crumbling to the ground when the Patriots get their annual road win at Ralph Wilson Stadium in September.
And while this year was no different than years past, the Bills were actually a very good team in 2019. Their defense was stellar, they had the pieces on offense, and it was reasonable for any member of Bills Mafia to dream of a playoff berth as they floated gracefully from the top of an RV onto a flaming table covered in ketchup and empty cans of Miller Genuine Draft. The 3-0 Bills hosted the 3-0 Patriots on September 29th with first place in the Division on the line. New England had just seen the Antonio Brown Era begin and end in a single game the week before, whereas the Bills hadn’t really been tested yet, winning games against the Jets, Giants, and Bengals. There was a lot riding on this game, in a way, as it would dictate how each individual team would be able to handle their respective question marks.
As far as Pats/Bills games go, this was one of the better ones in recent memory. The Bills D was as good as advertised, holding Tommy B to just 150 yards passing with a pick. New England gained only 74 yards rushing on the ground and the leading receiver was James White with 57 yards on eight catches - with 26 of those yards coming from one play. The Patriots only generated one touchdown drive all game, aided by a short field courtesy of Devin McCourty’s fourth interception in as many games (Honorable Mention to DMac’s streak, which just missed out on making this list). And of course, that TD only resulted in six points, as Ghost missed the XP attempt.
Luckily for New England, Buffalo couldn’t move the ball either, courtesy of the unit that would be the backbone of the squad all year.
Or perhaps I should say units.
New England followed their TD drive by holding the Bills to a three and out that actually saw Buffalo move backwards. They came out to punt on their own 33 yard line, and the Patriots lined up to return. At the snap, JC Jackson was able to get around the edge untouched and throw his arms right into the line of the punt, knocking it straight up into the air and back towards the Buffalo end zone. There to receive it at the eight yard line, with nothing in between him and six points but green, sex-toyless turf, was Matthew Slater. He caught the ball, and escorted by Brandon Bolden and Jamie Collins, slid into the end zone for the score. With a 13 point lead and this defense, the game was more or less over at that point.
You’d figure that Slater, in his long tenure with the Patriots, would have had notched a TD or two before this play. He’s been in at receiver on a handful of snaps, and he even spent some time as a safety during those dark days of defense. But the fact that he’s such an integral part of this Patriots dynasty, a sideline and locker room leader, a team captain, and a likely Patriots Hall of Famer, all without having ever scored a single point for this franchise up until last season, just goes to show how important his contributions on special teams and beyond have been.
This was just an incredible moment, for everyone involved. In a sport where the flashy receivers and the all-star quarterbacks and the punishing defensive ends get all the credit, it’s easy to lose sight of players like Slater. Diehard Pats fans know him and love him, and those who understand how unfathomably invaluable all the hidden yards, the motivational speeches, and the situational football prowess he brings to this team will always give him his due - but to all too many, Slater is just some special teamer. So for every fan, no matter how deep down the rabbit hole they are, cheer for Slater as he caught that blocked punt was just awesome. You could tell it meant a lot to the team as well, as evidenced by that complete swarm of white jerseys that surrounded Slater to congratulate him on the play.
And of course, you could tell it meant a lot to the man himself. Matthew Slater has never been one to seek the spotlight or demand any credit. He’s the antithesis of a me-first player. But even those guys deserve adulation once in a while, and looking at the picture that accompanies this article, it’s just so, so amazing to see him finally get one.
In full disclosure, this moment was initially slated at Number One for me for a long time. But as the offseason progressed and I thought more about it, there are two other moments that just were a little more meaningful, in my opinion. However, I couldn’t be more thrilled to give Matthew Slater the nod here at Number 3. Just a great play, a joyful sports moment, and yet another reminder that New England defense and special teams were a force in 2019.
Check out the play here.
Full game highlights here.