Their 35-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday did not just end the New England Patriots’ season, it also might have just capped an era. After all, there is a chance that franchise legends Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater — cornerstones of the team’s second dynastic run — are off to retirement.
Immediately following the game in Buffalo, however, neither of the two made any definitive statements. That said, both acknowledged the uncertainty of their respective future.
“Never been in this position like that,” said McCourty when asked what will impact his decision whether or not to continue his career. “I think just figuring out what makes me happy, what God has planned with my life going forward. Obviously, I still enjoy playing the game of football, but you can’t do it forever.
“My wife, my kids, just deciding on what’s best overall for not just me but the whole family union. Just figuring out what it’s going to be. I wish I could give you a better answer right now, but I don’t know. I’m going to enjoy this plane ride back with the guys and just cherish each moment, not knowing what’s ahead.”
McCourty joined the Patriots’ as a first-round pick in the 2010 draft, and has been a key member of the team’s defense ever since. A three-time Super Bowl winner and 12-year team captain, he played his 229th game wearing the franchise colors on Sunday.
If it was his last, McCourty did go out in style despite the disappointing end result: he registered an interception, a fumble recovery and had a big pass-breakup in the end zone.
His long-time companion, meanwhile, deflected any and all talk about game No. 248 being his last.
“I’m not sure, and I don’t think it’s fair to the guys in that locker room to just talk about my personal situation,” Slater said about his future.
While the 2008 fifth-round draft pick did not want to address what lies ahead for him, he did speak in a rather reflective and emotional tone. That was apparent when talking about the influence his father — Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater — had on him and his career.
“My dad told me when I was young if I was going to play the game that there’s a certain way to play it, a certain way to go about it,” he said. “I tried to make him proud, represent his name the right way because that’s how he did it. That’s what it’s always been about for me. ...
“I love everything about it. The competition. The brotherhood. The struggle. The ups and downs. For me, at heart, I’m just a kid following his dad’s footsteps. That’s been the most special thing for me: do what the most important person in my life, as a young person, did. That’s the biggest honor.”
The elder Slater’s final snap took place in 1995, when he was 41 years old and had played 277 career games. His son reaching that number seems unlikely, even if he continues his career for another season.
Regardless of when he and McCourty call it quits, however, the two men will always be tied together by a special bond — something McCourty noted following Sunday’s game.
“What he’s meant to me as not just a teammate but someone to look to, someone to mold my life as I grew — got married, had kids,” he said about Slater. “Just always looked down the locker room and knew he was there. We’re going to always have to keep in touch and FaceTime and stuff. You just start, as you get older, to thing about these things each year, not know if they’ll be the same. ...
“He’s 37, I’m 35. You can’t play this game forever. There’s a big unknown with all of that. Even what we decide, or even what other people decide, if you still are able to play somewhere and figuring that out. But I just always think of being in these moments, you don’t want to walk away and not speak about what people meant to you in your life. Matt’s just been phenomenal for me; my wife will say the same thing about Shahrzad.”
The compliments did not go one way — Slater also spoke highly about his long-time teammate.
“No one I’ve ever played with has impacted my life more,” Slater said while fighting back tears. “Simple as that.”