Tom Brady's much-anticipated return to Foxboro isn't just the story of the week in the NFL, it's the story of the year. Even that may be an understatement.
Matthew Slater understands why there's so much hype leading up to his team's Week 4 meeting with Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The New England Patriots captain and special teams ace won three Super Bowl titles with Brady under center. The two were teammates from 2008 to 2019 and built a close relationship during that time.
But coming off a tough loss to the New Orleans Saints, Slater is focused less on Brady and more on how the team can bounce back Sunday night.
"I couldn't think any higher of a player than I think of Tom Brady," Slater said Monday. "I couldn't think more highly of anyone that's ever played the game than I think of Tom as a player, as a friend he's been nothing but kind to me, my family, so I'm very appreciative of that relationship.
"But I think this week, the New England Patriots need to focus on the New England Patriots, and the things that we need to do to start playing better football, consistent football, competitive football. And it doesn't matter who we were playing this week, that would be the case. It just so happens that we play the guy who is one of the cornerstones of this place. It is what it is."
The Patriots can expect to hear plenty of Brady talk while they prepare for their primetime matchup. Head coach Bill Belichick and others already were faced with their fair share of Brady-related questions on Monday.
Slater, a respected voice in New England's locker room, explained what he plans on telling his teammates ahead one of the biggest regular-season games in recent memory.
"I'm going to encourage the guys to ignore the noise, which we always say around here, but there's certainly going to be a lot of noise this week," Slater said. "We are going to have to do that collectively, have a good week of preparation, and be ready to fight our tails off for 60 minutes."
A strong message, but easier said than done.
The Patriots will welcome Brady back to Gillette Stadium next Sunday night with kickoff set for 8:20 p.m. ET.