The Titans booted the Patriots out of the postseason a year ago, so it might seem strange to find out that one of New England’s most veteran leaders has a strong rooting interest in Tennessee’s games this season.
But that’s exactly the case for Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater.
Because while the New England organization cut ties with longtime kicker Stephen Gostkowski this offseason, the former All-Pro’s departure after undergoing hip surgery last season didn’t sever his connections to the Patriots locker room.
After a tough start to his career in Tennessee in Week 1 that saw him miss three field goals and a PAT, Gostkowski actually hit game-winning kicks in each of the first weeks of the 2020 season for the Titans.
During a Wednesday afternoon video call with local reporters, Slater was asked what it’s like watching Gostkowski kick from afar after sharing the New England sideline from 2008-19, all but two of the kicker’s 14 seasons in Foxborough.
“Stephen remains a very good friend. We speak often,” Slater said. “He's someone who really showed me the ropes here, him and Larry Izzo kind of showed me how to be a pro. So I'm very thankful for my time with Stephen. I played 12 years with him, I'll always be rooting for him -- whether it's as a Tennessee Titan or just a dad coaching his sons. He'll always have a fan in me. I support him in everything he does because that's what he's done for me. He's always been there.”
Slater thinks that Tennessee is a perfect spot for his longtime teammate and friend, especially considering Gostkowski, who attended college at Memphis, built an offseason home in the state even before signing with the Titans.
“He's always been a great friend. He's always given me a lot of encouragement,” Slater continued. “So, exciting to see him have an opportunity to play again, to be healthy, and he's with obviously a great organization, and there's a lot of familiarity with him and Mike [Vrabel]. So I'll be pulling for Stephen all year long.”
For the season Gostkowski has hit four of his six PATs and three of his six field goal attempts, including both his boots from 51 and 49 yards in a 33-30 Week 2 win over the Jaguars. He also has touchbacks on nine of his 10 kickoffs.