If there was ever a question on how Bill Belichick feels about Matthew Slater, the Patriots coach made it crystal clear when asked about the special teams ace on Friday.
“Matt has done a great job for us,’’ Belichick said. “In my time here I’ve been very fortunate to have two outstanding, I mean exemplary, players at leadership positions on special teams with Larry Izzo and Matt Slater.
“I thought when we had Larry here that there’d never be another one like that, that that was so rare, and Matt’s different than Larry, but I think in his own way was equally effective.’’
Izzo joined the Patriots in 2001 after starting his career with Miami in 1996 and having already earned one Pro Bowl berth for his special teams abilities. In eight years with New England, he served as a team captain eight times, was part of all three Super Bowl-winning teams, and was selected an All-Pro twice.
In his career, Izzo had 296 special teams tackles in 221 games (including postseason). He is now an assistant special teams coach for the Giants.
Slater was named to the Pro Bowl for the second straight year last month, and led the Patriots with 20 special teams tackles.
“Matt’s really, he’s tremendous. His attitude, his work ethic, the example that he sets, the way he interacts with his teammates in a really good way,’’ Belichick said. “I don’t know that a player could do any more than what he’s done for us in that role for the last several years.
“He’s embraced his role on the team, he’s been very good at it and he makes other players around him better. I think that’s a great compliment to him and the job he does.
“He’s smart, he’s well-prepared, he works hard, he has good skill, good talent, he’s tough, he’s a good playmaker for us. I could go on about him all day.’’
After the Patriots allowed an opening 94-yard kickoff return last Sunday against the Texans and a 69-yarder in the fourth quarter, the two longest returns the Patriots have allowed this season, Slater was not pleased with the performance of his group and pointed to himself to improve.
Slater and his teammates will have a tall task on Sunday — Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones was the league’s best kickoff returner, averaging 30.7 yards per, with two touchdowns.
The Patriots had their final practice of the week on Friday and players are allowed to go home earlier than usual. The team gathers again on Saturday for more meetings and a final walkthrough.
But even when he’s not doing the required work, Tom Brady was still poring over everything, looking for an edge against Baltimore.
“Every minute. I think every minute,’’ Brady said Friday when asked how much more preparation time he puts in between the final practice and kickoff. “You just keep pushing through.
“You finish practice today and you go in and watch film on practice and see what we have to do better and that goes right through the night. [Saturday] morning we have meeting and that goes through the afternoon and tomorrow night we have meetings and then Sunday mornings we have meetings. It goes right up until game time. It just doesn’t stop. You really can’t turn it off at this point.’’
Deion Branch said Friday that Brady started working on Baltimore last Sunday night, after the Patriots defeated the Texans. In the days leading up to New England’s game against the 49ers, Brady said he started studying San Francisco after the Patriots had played the Jets on Thanksgiving night.
Two Patriots were fined from last Sunday’s game against Houston: Steve Gregory was docked $15,750 for unnecessary roughness — striking an opponent in the head and neck area. The fine stems from Gregory’s hit on Kevin Walter; he was also flagged on the play. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was also fined $15,750 for his horse-collar tackle of kick returner Danieal Manning . . . Defensive tackle Marcus Forston was promoted from the practice squad. The undrafted rookie out of Miami played in one game this season — the Week 3 loss to the Ravens.