By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
There's a great side benefit to being a Patriots fan. You don't have to waste time caring about who got named to the Pro Bowl or All-Pro teams, who won MVP or Offensive/Defensive Player of the Year, or who's ranked where on some buffoon's arbitrary list that's literally designed to trigger you.
The Patriots always have a singular goal every season, and that's to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of it. It's an ancillary but essential reason why they've been so consistent and won six of these goddamn things in the past 18 seasons. Let those other idiots squawk about Pro Bowl nods and whatever.
For Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater, it goes back to something Bill Belichick tells the players when it comes to the smaller in-season honors: "Put it in the drawer." That might lead to some clutter, but you'd take a messy desk if it has a nice shiny Lombardi plopped on top of it.
“I’ve always had the mindset that what’s happening amongst the team and in this locker room and our team goals is always going to trump what you do as an individual,” said Slater to reporters on Wednesday, one day after receiving the eighth Pro Bowl distinction of his career. Slater scored the first touchdown of his career off a blocked punt against the Bills in Week 4, and also blocked a punt that set up a N'Keal Harry touchdown in a 13-9 win over the Cowboys. So he's been a big factor in two wins this season, leading to a much-deserved Pro-Bowl nod and possibly All-Pro consideration for the longtime special teams ace.
But in moments like these, it's important to compartmentalize. The Patriots do that better than any team in the league. They can celebrate their selections or shake their damn heads at the snubs, but it's not like a few snickering tweets are going to distract them from the real prize at the end of the season.
“I think guys here have great perspective, not just on things that happen professionally but things as they happen in life,” said Slater. “I think perspective’s gonna be a huge factor in how you handle those situations. We realize that we’re here for one main goal, and it’s not about the goals you may have as an individual. There’s one goal that we all have as a team, that we all come in here every day to work towards, and that’s something that you always have to have in the back of your mind. It’s important to refocus yourself on that fact every day.
"Obviously our leadership does a great job of that, with coach Belichick and Tom [Brady] and other guys, and I’m appreciative of the guys we have in this locker room and the way they approach things."
Among the leadership is linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who became a Pro Bowler for the second time in his career on Tuesday. Hightower is honored to be voted along with Stephon Gilmore as the de facto representatives for the Patriots' league-best defense. But he sounded like he stuffed that thing in the proverbial drawer as quickly as possible.
“It’s a huge honor, man - I definitely was not planning on that this year, I obviously have bigger goals ahead,” said Hightower, who added that he felt safety Devin McCourty and linebacker Jamie Collins deserved consideration. “I appreciate my teammates and everyone who voted … but hopefully we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
The reactions from other Patriots, particularly about who was not voted to the Pro Bowl, show that the distinction does matter to them on some level. Just to be able to say you were a Pro Bowler is something to be proud of as an individual, even if the game itself is a farce and All-Pro selections are an even bigger honor. But ultimately, the goal that really matters is to win the team trophy, and there's only one of those to go around.
Consider the Pro Bowl nods - and the snubs - filed away. There's a bigger, more valuable reward waiting at the finish line.
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].