Socci’s View: Where Andrews and Slater lead, others Patriots should follow
Ninety minutes after snapping the ball back to Mac Jones for the 64th and final time last Sunday, David Andrews sat in a folding chair staring into his locker.
Still in his sweat-soaked white undershirt, Andrews had shed the jersey and pads that he wore into the adjoining auditorium at Gillette Stadium as the first of the Patriots to speak to the public — as he almost always is — on the subject of another unfulfilled afternoon. This one concluding with a 20-17 loss to Washington.
Others were already showered. Some were already gone.
Nearby, Andrews’ lone teammate with longer tenure and greater stature as a team leader, Matthew Slater, took his turn — as he always does — answering for the latest frustrating performance by a team foundering through seven losses in nine games.
Yet to wipe smudges of eye black shaped in crosses from the cheeks of his game face, Slater stood shirtless before reporters and recorders with his back to his stall.
Behind him, a sky blue ball cap with the sun-gold script of his alma mater, UCLA, rested on a shelf, where it would remain. Slater is rarely seen in public as a cap-wearer. Out of Patriots’ gear, he dresses stylishly, in a classical sense. Bespectacled, he keeps his chin as cleanly-shaved as his bald head.
Andrews, on the other hand, is usually spotted out of uniform with a lid on his head. If not an Atlanta Braves cap, it’s a trucker’s style of hat — mesh backing, sometimes camouflage crown, likely decorated by a Georgia Bulldog. Underneath it is a mop of hair, brown like his bushy beard that by now has grown to unruly, mid-season form. When the Pats road-trip, he’s apt to pair boots with blazer.
But beneath outward differences, Slater and Andrews are cut from the same cloth. It’s obvious when superficialities are stripped away. Last weekend, it could be seen in Foxboro. The prior week, it could be heard from Miami.
Accessible. Accountable. Authentic.
That’s what they’ve been. It’s who they are. And why they’ve earned the captain’s “C” a combined 20 times.
This is Slater’s 13th season as a co-captain. For Andrews, it’s his seventh in the role. It would be his eighth it he hadn’t missed all of 2019 because of blood clotting in his lungs.
Slater has been a Patriot for five Super Bowls and three championships. Andrews was part of two of those titles, after debuting as Tom Brady’s center with 11 starts, all wins, as a rookie.
Both grew up around the game. Slater’s father, Jackie, a 20-year offensive tackle, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Andrews’ late “granduncle” Dan Reeves, a great player and coach, belongs there too.
They speak from experience. They speak from the heart. And they speak only of what they’re willing to do, or have already done.
There are plenty of stand-up Patriots, including other captains and a Navy lieutenant. But nobody else has led as well for as long, amplifying words through their actions.
When Andrews tell us, and his teammates, “you’ve got to look in the mirror and go back to work,” as he did after Sunday’s loss, trust that he’ll do as he says. It’s the only way an undrafted plugger deemed by most scouts to be too small to center an NFL line, endures through 112 games and 7,100-plus offensive snaps.
Once flanked by rock-steady Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason on a championship line, Andrews has since seen a constant changing of his left and right guards. Still, he soldiers on, as the lone lineman to start every game in 2023.
When Slater notes “the difference between winning and losing in this league is not some huge overhaul,” stressing that major differences lie in minor details, know that he’s always sweating the small stuff. His daily practice and pregame routines are made up of precise movements refined to spare fractions of seconds off downfield runs. Exacting to the point of uniqueness, they’ve become the talk of his NFL peers.
He’s no different than he was in his first 13 seasons as a stalwart on the NFL’s best special teams units, even as problems piled up: blocked punts allowed in 2021, kickoff returns surrendered in 2022 and penalties committed in 2023.
Spending no less time at work and no more time (as in none) on social media, Slater keeps the main thing the main thing by never ignoring little things.
“Too sloppy,” he said on Sunday. “We’ve got to be more consistent executing our technique. I know we want to make plays, but, you know, just too…too sloppy.
“This is about looking inside yourself and trying to do your job better. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
Slater, like Andrews, has done his job for a single NFL employer. Most of his tenure, the franchise reigned over the league.
Merely improving how players approach their work won’t return the Pats to similar heights. That will require a huge overhaul. But they can, at least, lift themselves up from their current depths. Slater still senses their willingness to do it.
“I don’t think effort and buy-in are issues,” Slater said. “Like we’ve been talking about, just detail; detail in our work has been the issue. We’re not coming out here and just laying down every week.”
Attention to detail exists in practices, he says. Why it goes missing in games escapes him.
“The consistency is where we’re lacking,” Slater said. “If I had an answer for that, I’d be shouting it from the rooftops.”
Slater and Andrews can only put their heads down, without hanging them, and hope enough teammates will do the same.
“Keep trying. Keep working,” Andrews says. “It’s all I know to do.”
“We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Slater says.
The next game nears. Indianapolis awaits in Germany. Across the Atlantic, Andrews will go without Trent Brown at tackle to his left for a second straight week.
Injuries and absences. Penalties and turnovers. Losses, especially close ones. They’ve added up. But not enough to undo Andrews.
“It’s not going to break my spirit,” he said after the last defeat.
On Sunday, Andrews will again squat over the football, eyeball the Colts’ defense and snap it to Jones; his next one will be his 573rd this fall. Then he’ll fight like hell to give the quarterback time to throw and running backs room to run.
As a specialist, Slater will watch it from the sideline. But as a second-generation pro whose inheritance includes a tackle’s genes and ethos, he’ll be in the trenches in unbroken spirit, alongside Andrews.
“He’s kind of an honorary offensive lineman,” Andrews said on Wednesday, reappearing at a different Gillette Stadium lectern before this week’s first practice. “It’s in his blood.”
Andrews added his recollection of a rookie obligation. Back in 2015, he had to buy sandwiches for O-line mates ahead of road trips. The order, and thus the bill, always included Slater.
That was in the salad days of the Pats’ dynasty. These days, Andrews and Slater hunger for success that never came easy before and has never been harder to taste.
“We grew up in this system (with) a belief in how things should be done,” Andrews said mid-week.
Which, as Slater told Mass Live’s Matt Vatour a few days earlier, is with a commitment rooted in fundamentals; not driven by desperation.
“We do need to play with a great sense of urgency and conviction. That is a thin line,” he said. “Obviously, we haven’t walked it well enough or we wouldn’t be 2-and-7.”
Take it from someone who’s walked that talk in much different times.
Bob Socci is in his 11th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub.