After close to two months on the shelf, Matthew Slater made his long-awaited season debut Thursday night for the New England Patriots.
Slater, who sat out all four preseason games and the first four weeks of the regular season as he recovered from a nagging hamstring injury, resumed his duties on special teams against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, playing 11 snaps in the kicking game in the Patriots’ 19-14 road win.
“It was a long process for me,” the longtime Patriots co-captain said Friday. “A tough process. But I’m thankful that I’m healthy enough to be back out there with my teammates, thankful for the support and prayers I’ve had from friends and family, my teammates and coaches. It’s a blessing to be back on that field. It definitely puts things in perspective. You can’t take it for granted.”
Slater had missed just three total games over the previous three seasons, and he admitted it was difficult to sit and watch as his team got off to an inauspicious 2-2 start. Television cameras caught him doing his best to raise the energy level on the sideline during games.
“Obviously, as a member of a team, you want to be out there contributing — holding up your end of the bargain so to speak,” Slater said. “So it was a frustrating time. But I think I learned a lot about myself, about the NFL experience, about life in general. It was an interesting time for me personally, but I’m thankful to be back on the field.”
The Patriots were able to score a much-needed victory in Slater’s return to action, rebounding from last week’s 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers to shut down the Buccaneers on short rest.
“That was an important game for us (Thursday) night,” Slater said. “I think we showed a lot of mental and physical toughness. I’ve said my piece several times on what I feel about Thursday night games in regards to player safety and health. But I think what we did coming off a tough loss — an emotionally draining loss — to come back and refocus ourselves, get back on the horse and take care of our business, I think that said a lot about our football team.”
He added: “I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet in the season — which is a good thing, because we’re still sitting here with a winning record.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images