Matthew Slater: Colts’ Josh Cribbs One Of The Best Returners In NFL History

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FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots are tasked with slowing down an elite kick returner for the second consecutive week.

The Patriots, who were forced to stall Jacoby Jones in Saturday’s divisional-round playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens, now are preparing for the difficulties of facing Josh Cribbs in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts.

“Certainly, when you look at Josh Cribbs, he’s one of the best return men to have ever played in this league,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. “That dynamic that he brings is going to have to change the way that we prepare this week with how aggressive he is. He’s willing to take chances, he’s willing to put his body in compromising situations sometimes for the bettering of his team — all in the name of field position and making big plays.”

Cribbs’ 32 yards per kick return this season ranked first among players with at least 19 kick returns. He didn’t return any kicks or punts for touchdowns, but the 31-year-old remains a threat to break one, evidenced by his 11 return touchdowns — eight kickoffs, three punts — while with the Cleveland Browns from 2005 through 2011.

Cribbs, who’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, has made a career out of terrorizing opposing special teams units. It’s not unlike Jones’ track record leading up to last week’s playoff contest in Foxboro.

“I think he’s unique in that he’s such a large man,” Slater said of Cribbs. “I know we said that last week about Jacoby (Jones), but it’s the same thing this week with him and just how aggressive he is. As cover guys, we can’t allow ourselves to get comfortable and assume anything with this guy because he’s liable to take it the distance any play.”

The Patriots are the heavy favorites in this week’s AFC Championship. They seem to match up well with the Colts, who they blew out earlier in the season, and there’s really no reason why New England shouldn’t advance to Super Bowl XLIX. The Pats aren’t looking too far ahead, though, even on special teams.

“Big plays in the kicking game are unexpected. When you’re able to have a huge momentum play like that, especially in a game of this magnitude, it really can be the difference in the ballgame,” Slater said. “I think those are plays that we can’t take for granted. We have to go out each snap and have a sense of urgency and understanding that that could be the play that changes the game.”

Cribbs has been a game-changer his entire 10-year career. The Patriots want to ensure he’s a non-factor come Sunday.

Thumbnail photo via Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images

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