A lot has happened in Foxboro over the last 20 years.
The New England Patriots have gone from a franchise at the bottom of the NFL to one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports. Following the 5-11 season in 2000, the Pats have gone to nine Super Bowls and have won six of them. In those 20 seasons, the Patriots won the AFC East 17 times, including the last 11 straight.
Two players have had a hand in much of that Patriots success. It started with Tom Brady, who was there for all of it. There was also kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who spent the last 14 seasons in New England. Both are gone now with Brady having signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay and the Patriots having released Gostkowski.
Suddenly, the Pats find themselves as underdogs starting a new chapter in their history without their two longest-tenured players. That makes Matthew Slater, entering his 13th season, as the longest tenured player on the team. On Monday, during a conference call, the longtime captain said this 2020 Patriots team needs to find a new identity after losing the face of the franchise.
“I think the one thing is you don’t want to downplay obviously guys like Tom and Steve and what they meant for us. You have to find a way to deal with that personally and process it,” Slater said. “I think as a team, obviously, we’re going to have to process that Tom’s gone. Do it in a healthy way and be able to move on. We’re going to have to find a new identity for ourselves. I think part of that identify will be built upon things we always stood for and will continue to stand for as long as this organization is led by the people that it’s led by.”
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Of course, Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick are still in place. With a stable owner and coach, the Pats are in good hands for the post-Brady years. With this season, however, comes a lot of uncertainty. It appears that the Patriots will hand over the reins to second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham, but that’s not certain. It looks like the Patriots will have a defense that can carry the load, but that unit has lost three starters (Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon) and two players who were captains (Elandon Roberts and Harmon).
Slater said it’ll take things like selflessness, hard work and “doing what’s best for the football team.” He wants to see his teammates help one another and realize that they need to come into this season without expectations. The Patriots, he said, have to continue to operate, prepare, practice and get ready like they have every season that Brady was at the helm.
“Over the last 20 years a big part of our identity has been centered around Tom and what he’s done for us, but again, players come and go,” Slater said. “At some point in time you have to have pillars you stand upon that are not going to fall regardless of who’s in or out. I think we have good pillars in place.”
Part of Slater’s hope is that players who need to step up to lead will. He admits that there will be a big void in the locker room without players like Brady and Gostkowski. He knows there will be a huge hole on offense to fill. It’s uncertain how the Pats will fill those big losses, but Slater says he’s embracing the challenge.
“I don’t think the goals change at all. The standard doesn’t change at all. The pillars that we stand upon, they don’t change at all,” Slater said. “I think if you go into the season with a defeatist mindset, then you can’t expect to be successful. We’re not the victims here. We have a great opportunity. We have a lot of good football players. We have a tremendous coaching staff…
“We have to go into the season expecting more from ourselves than anyone outside of the building expects from us. We have to go in with the same drive, the same focus, the same determination and if we don’t, we shouldn’t even step foot in the building because we already will be beat.”
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