By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
So how many wins is Matthew Slater worth, anyway?
It's a question worth asking now. Some may pose it with a wink and a smirk, pretending to afford it the dignity it deserves. Others may ride it into a fiery debate that will blaze ahead as long as Matthew Slater is out here making game-changing special teams plays.
The 2019 Patriots now have two wins by less than seven points. New England scored exactly one touchdown in each win. And Slater factored significantly into both of them.
So Slater is arguably worth 1-2 wins this year, right? Or is it just not that simple? Or are we not doing gunner talk today?
Regardless, Slater planted more special teams dynamite on Sunday against the Cowboys when he blocked a Chris Jones punt in the first quarter. It was simply a spectacular and pivotal play that turned out to be so significant that it's forced 98.5 The Sports Hub's own Adam Jones to yell at him for being a special teams player.
The blocked punt, which Jonathan Jones recovered, helped set up the Patriots at the Cowboys' 12-yard line. Two plays later, Tom Brady found rookie N'Keal Harry for the receiver's first career touchdown, also a spectacular play.
But the touchdown was only possible because of Slater's latest special teams triumph. Ahh, so he stuck his arm out! Well that hand on the ball arguably got the Patriots a win on Sunday.
To illustrate Slater's importance this season, we need to take a quick jump back to Week 4, when the Patriots prevailed 16-10 in a defensive struggle against the Bills thanks to a decisive special teams score. That time it was cornerback J.C. Jackson diving and blocking the punt, with Slater catching the fluttering ball and running it in to finish off the Patriots' only touchdown.
Slater himself echoed that game when describing Sunday's block against Dallas. Once again, the Patriots' special teams units had prepared beyond your standard run-of-the-mill returns and coverages, identified a weak spot, and exploited it to thrilling effect.
“We had a look the we felt good about all week and we really worked hard on that,” said Slater. “The way the game turned out, we didn’t think we'd get a lot of chances to return the football, so we wanted to keep the pressure on them."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones apparently blames head coach Jason Garrett and his staff for the Cowboys' costly special teams miscue.
"Special teams is nothing but coaching, I believe," Jones said (via the Dallas Morning News). "Special teams is effort. Special teams is savvy. Special teams is thinking. Anybody that can play a position on offense or defense ought to be a great special teams player. There shouldn’t be anybody on our roster who isn’t a good special teams player. ... I don’t want to get into anything about coaching relative to changes or anything like that, but I will tell you that special teams is a total reflection of coaching."
Slater would be the first person to give credit to Bill Belichick for developing him into the relentless special teams menace he's been for over a decade. Like many instances of dominance over this Patriots run - The Gilmore Effect, for instance - the combination of coach and player is why the Patriots yield such great results.
Jones' Cowboys may have a roster filled with talent that could be good special teams players. But they don't have anyone like Slater, who combines the aforementioned effort, savvy, and thinking to execute for Belichick make as consistent an impact on special teams as any player in his era. And he's very fast. But he sees a play like his blocked punt in slow motion.
“As the play was developing, I said to myself 'I might have a chance here', and as I kept going I was like ‘I might really have a chance here,’" said Slater. "You never know when you get to the block point, any number of things can happen. Fortunately I was able to get my hand on it."
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].