Combined Greatness Will Be On Display Week 8 When Patriots Take On Browns


Oct 27, 2019

FOXBORO, Mass. — Prepare to observe greatness Sunday when the New England Patriots take on the Cleveland Browns. Two of the best players to ever man their positions will be sharing the field.

And no, we don’t mean Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. We’re not talking about Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham or Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore. This is about Patriots gunners Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel.

Between Slater and Bethel, the two special-teams aces have a combined 10 Pro Bowl selections and seven All-Pro honors since 2011. Slater and Bethel rank up there with Steve Tasker, Bill Bates, Michael Bates (no relation), Larry Izzo and Hank Bauer, among others, as the best core special-teamers of all time.

This is the special-teams equivalent of Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens lining up across the offensive formation from one another. This is like when Chris Doleman and John Randle played on the same defensive line. Slater and Bethel covering punts will be as difficult for the opposing team as Champ Bailey and Deion Sanders playing across from one another at cornerback.

The Patriots signed Bethel this week after he was released by the Baltimore Ravens. It had nothing to do with his performance on the field and everything to do with a strange quirk in the compensatory pick formula.

The Tennessee Titans released former Ravens defensive lineman Brent Urban last week. The Ravens would not have received a fourth-round compensatory draft pick if they didn’t release Bethel because of that Titans transaction. So, would the Ravens trade a fourth-round pick for a special-teams coverage player? Of course, they would. So, the Ravens cut Bethel on Monday, and the Patriots brought him in for a workout and signed him to a two-year contract the next day.

“We’ve both been kind of at the top of our position,” Bethel said Friday about he and Slater. “And we’ve both done a lot of things that you can look at and be like, ‘Oh, let me take this. He does this, let me take this.’ And so to be able to be on the same team and kind of see it upfront — I was actually watching something he was doing today. I was like, ‘Oh, let me try to take that.’ To be on the same team is something me and him thought would probably never happen. I was excited just to be in the AFC with him when I was on the Ravens. When I got here, I was talking to him. I was like, ‘What do you think chances of us being on the same team would have been?’ It’s exciting to finally get here with him and work hand in hand.”

Bethel began his career with the Arizona Cardinals and had a stop with the Atlanta Falcons last year before signing with the Ravens this offseason. He has four forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries in his eight-year career. He’s also blocked four kicks.

Bethel and Slater aren’t the only special-teams standouts on the Patriots. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, a special teams aficionado, said Friday he’d put cornerback Jonathan Jones in the same category as Slater and Bethel. The Patriots also have 2016 All-Pro Nate Ebner plus Terrence Brooks and Brandon Bolden on their squad.

Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images
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