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Matthew Slater: 'I don't think we've played our best football yet'

Matthew Slater: 'I don't think we've played our best football yet'

FOXBORO — Matthew Slater didn’t think Thursday’s game was the prettiest he’s seen. Then again, perhaps he’s seen more football this season than he’s cared to. 

After spending the early going of the season watching from the sidelines with a hamstring injury as the Pats jumped out to a 2-2 start, the special teams star made his season debut Thursday in a 19-14 win over the Bucs. 

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It’s been a strange season for Slater, who was hindered by injury over the first four weeks and had to watch a worse-than-anticipated product while doing so. Now finally able to contribute, he’s one of a room full of players just trying to right the ship. 

“Obviously it’s been a little bit up and down thus far,” Slater said when asked to reflect on the 3-2 start. “I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet in the season, which is a good thing because we’re still sitting here with a winning record and there’s a lot of room for us to improve. 

“I think for us, we just have to strive to continue to be consistent. Consistency is something that we’ve lacked a little bit early on in the season. Hopefully, though, as we continue to progress through the season, we can build upon what we did last night and try to become a little bit more consistent. And that’s a day-to-day thing. It’s not a Sunday-to-Sunday thing; it’s literally a day-to-day thing.”

Given that the Patriots were coming off a disappointing loss to the Panthers, a win of any kind would suffice to prevent a 2-3 start in a season many believed could have yielded a 16-0 record. Though it was the Patriots’ worst offensive performance of the season, defensive issues that plagued the team over the first four weeks were corrected as the team allowed a season-low points. 

“That was an important game for us last night,” Slater said. “I thought we showed a lot of mental and physical toughness. I’ve said my piece several times on what I feel about Thursday night games in regards to player safety and health, but I think what we did coming off a tough loss, an emotionally draining loss, to come back and re-focus ourselves, get back on the horse and take care of our business, I think that said a lot about our football team last night. ‘Mentally tough’ was the way I described it last night and that was good for us.”

Rex Burkhead returns to Patriots practice

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Rex Burkhead returns to Patriots practice

FOXBORO -- The Patriots got one injured player back on the field Friday as they made their final preparations for the Panthers. 

Rex Burkhead, who missed Week 3 with a rib injury and had not practiced this week, was in shells with the rest of the team and on the field for the stretching portion (the only time made available to media) of Friday’s practice at Gillette Stadium.

Burkhead was listed as doubtful on the injury report released Friday afternoon.

The Patriots made do without Burkhead in Week 3 and might have to again Sunday despite his presence on the practice field. Burkhead looked to be moving gingerly in his turns during core stretches. 

All other players were present Friday.