End of an era?
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 01: Mike Gesicki #88 of the Miami Dolphins runs against Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
No matter what happens with the Patriots next week, Sunday’s game was the final one of this season at Gillette Stadium. Even if they do make the playoffs they can’t get higher than the seventh seed, which would mean road games throughout the postseason.
That’s a fact that may be especially significant to long-time Patriots captains Devin McCourty, 35, and Matthew Slater, 37. Both have has retirement rumors surround them in recent years, and both are set to become free agents this spring. After the game, both spoke about the chances that this was their final time playing at Gillette Stadium.
“I took a moment, spent some time with my family on the field,” McCourty said. “It’s been a great run. To come out here, if this was the last one, I think to be able to leave Gillette with a win, very similar to how my first-ever game was a win. I’ve had a lot of fun. These guys have been awesome to go out here and compete with. You never know how football goes. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it before the game, and just now. Give a high five to the Minutemen, something I’ve done over and over and over again after wins. Just kind of think about that, let that settle in, just trying to make sure I stay in the moment, enjoy. But definitely gave it a few seconds today.”
“You know, as much as I try to block it out and focus on doing my job, it certainly dawned on me today that this very well could be my last game here,” Slater reflected. “I don’t know what my future holds. I haven’t spent a ton of time thinking about it, I’ve been trying to stay in the moment. I certainly took time to appreciate being in this stadium and running out of that tunnel today. Saw a couple of signs that were thanking D-Mac [Devin McCourty] and myself. I don’t know what either of us have in store but I think when you get to this stage of it, you try to take in every moment and savor it. I think some of the players and coaches knowing that I’m not sure of what my future have expressed gratitude and that meant a lot to me, and just told me they loved me and it just means so much, it really does.”
Belichick spoke about the duo as well, at length. “Devin has done about everything a player could do for this program. Say the same thing about Matt Slater in the kicking game,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know if there’s ever been or ever going to be a player than Matt Slater as an overall special teams player and the leadership he brought to the team, along with Devin. Devin came in as a corner, went to the Pro Bowl, moved to safety, led the defense from the safety position from his second year on. His off-the-the field leadership, on-the-field leadership is superior, as good as anybody I’ve ever coached at that position. He does everything right. He’s done everything right since he’s been here. He knows the line calls. He knows the defense inside and out, so he has total respect from everybody because of his preparation and his unselfish play. Same thing for Slater. I don’t know if he was here either, same question, but probably. What those two guys have done, what they mean to this organization, what they mean to me personally, what they’ve done here, it’s pretty impressive, pretty elite.”
“So, you know, I’m sure Devin would have liked to have had one more interception on the ledger today but he gave us, again you just don’t see a lot of great plays that he makes, communication or adjustments he makes,” he continued. “When we have to change coverages, make coverage adjustments, it always runs through him. The front runs through a lot of times [Ja’Whaun] Bentley, down safeties. But all coverage adjustments run through him. It’s like truly having a coach on the field, having somebody that can see a problem, fix it, or at least take us out of a problem because of whatever, they sub late, the formation, whatever it happens to be. He’s got great judgment and great decision making. His decisions are quick, they’re decisive, and they’re almost always right. Any decision is a bad decision if you’re hesitant and everybody doesn’t get it. Making sure that we’re all on the same page, that’s always number one. Yeah, he’s a special one.”