By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Matthew Slater is a respected veteran football player, a longtime Patriots captain, and an ambassador for the New England Patriots and the sport of football as a whole. So when he speaks, the 36-year-old chooses his words carefully.
Very rarely over the course of his 14-year career has one of his mistakes been in the spotlight in a negative fashion. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Slater for not immediately returning to the field of play after getting blocked out of bounds ultimately negated what would have been a game-changing play in the Patriots’ favor.
Slater’s penalty came midway through the third quarter. Slater, lined up as the gunner along the right sideline, was blocked out of bounds and didn’t make an effort to get back onto the field of play, instead sprinting up the Patriots’ sideline before returning to the field of play and forcing a fumble.
It could have been a huge play, but it obviously did not count. After the enforcement of the 15-yard penalty, the Patriots punted again, the Buccaneers took over near midfield, and they promptly scored their first touchdown of the evening shortly thereafter.
Think Slater was trying to argue the second shove is what kept him out of bounds, but this is still a penalty.
He ran 25 yards or so before trying to come back in. pic.twitter.com/D0httRDi1t
— Chris Mason (@ByChrisMason) October 4, 2021
While most viewers believed it was a cut-and-dried rule, Slater added some color when discussing the call on Monday afternoon. With this experience on special teams, his perspective was certainly interesting.
Rather than pick out snippets, here’s Slater’s full description of what took place:
The call that was made on the field is the call that was made on the field. It’s a tough play. Obviously I’m well aware of the rules; I don’t think there’s anybody in this league that’s covered more punts than I have. So, I understand what the rules are.
I made a play that I thought was within the rules based on how I was being played and some of the things that we’ve talked about, but ultimately that’s a judgment call and you have to live with the call that the officials make on the field. I’m not gonna question that — they’re trying their best to get things right. So, it’s just one of those things you wish you could have it back or you wish there wasn’t a flag, but it just wasn’t the case.
It’s interesting — that rule, it’s left open for some interpretation. I think everyone assumes that when you go out of bounds, you immediately have to reenter the field of play. That’s never been the way the rule has been officiated. I don’t want to say that there’s a grace period, but there is a yardage mark that we have in our minds that we’re coached to play with. You set an angle to return the field of play. Sometimes you come back in the field of play and there’s a guy there and maybe he pushes you back out and it changes your angle, or sometimes you stay out too long, or sometimes you take the wrong angle. Many of those things should come into play, so I have to try to execute the play better.
We’ll learn from it. It’s disappointing because I felt like that was a big play in the game. But, again, I think the official made the call that he felt was right. If you surveyed 100 special teams coaches, 50 of them might say yea, fifty of them might say nay. A hundred of them might say nay — I don’t know. That’s really, that’s neither here nor there. We really got to start focusing on playing better football and start playing some winning football. And we made some strides last night but ultimately want to start getting in the win category.
While the officiating crew on the field obviously disagreed with Slater’s assessment of the rule, his approach to disagreeing with the call based on his own level of expertise without complaining or demeaning the officials is a rare feat.