How One Infamous Patriots Loss Helped Launch James White’s Career

'He just was like a sponge'

by

August 12

FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots fans don’t have fond memories of Sept. 29, 2014.

That was the night of one of the worst regular-season losses in franchise history, a 41-14 spanking against the Kansas City Chiefs on “Monday Night Football.”

To most New England supporters, the lone bright spot from that game was the play of then-backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who led a late touchdown drive after taking over for a benched Tom Brady (and indirectly spawned the phrase “On to Cincinnati”).

But for one longtime Patriots captain, that humbling evening at Arrowhead Stadium also clued him in to the talents of a different teammate — one who’d eventually blossom into one of the most important players of the Bill Belichick era.

That player was James White.

After White announced his retirement Thursday, special teams ace Matthew Slater was asked when he first knew the reliable pass-catching back would become a valuable player for the Patriots.

“Funny enough, for me it was actually the blowout loss to Kansas City in 2014,” Slater said, speaking after the Patriots’ 23-21 preseason loss to the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium. “It was one of the few games he was active for that year. I think he showed a great deal of poise and promise in a very bad situation.”

White, who hardly played as a fourth-round rookie in 2014, only had three carries for 21 yards and three catches for 15 yards in the KC loss. But that game clued Slater in to his talents.

“I think from there, I kind of watched him, and over the course of that year he had a great person to learn from in (running back) Shane Vereen,” Slater said. “He just was like a sponge. Every detail that was taught, he was able to retain and go out and apply on the field, and that’s rare to see from young players.

“So although he didn’t really get on the field much early on, I think he showed flashes of what he could be. And then obviously we all saw the player that he became. But (it was) really no surprise when you think back to it because of the person he is and continues to be.”

A healthy scratch in the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seattle Seahawks, White became a full-time player as an NFL sophomore and was a staple in New England’s passing game for the rest of his career. From 2015 through 2021, he led all NFL running backs in catches and receiving touchdowns and ranked second in receiving yards, despite playing in just three games during his final season.

Slater said White leaves behind a “tremendous, tremendous legacy” in New England. That legacy includes three Super Bowl titles, four seasons as a team captain and a spot on the Patriots’ All-Decade Team for the 2010s.

NESN.com’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.

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