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Slater humbled by Pro Bowl nod, prefers Super Bowl

Slater humbled by Pro Bowl nod, prefers Super Bowl

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Matthew Slater is humbled by his second straight Pro Bowl selection.

Just don't send him an airplane ticket to the game in Honolulu a week before the Super Bowl.

``I'd rather be eating gumbo in New Orleans than pineapple in Hawaii,'' the New England Patriots special teams captain said Thursday.

Slater and six teammates were picked for the Pro Bowl on Wednesday, but what he really wants is another trip to the championship game, this time in Louisiana on Feb. 3.

He and his teammates made it to that game last season in Indianapolis, where the cuisine isn't as renowned, and lost to the New York Giants 21-17. They've clinched the AFC East title this season and can finish in any of the top four spots in the conference - with the first two getting opening-round byes - after Sunday's finale against the Miami Dolphins.

The outcome of two of that day's early games - Houston at Indianapolis and Baltimore at Cincinnati - will affect the Patriots' possibilities even before their late game begins.

Slater said he won't pay much attention to them.

``It means nothing if we don't win our game so our focus is on playing the Miami Dolphins,'' he said. ``We know the Miami Dolphins are going to play us well no matter what their record is, no matter what our record is.''

The Patriots (11-4) are division champions for the fourth straight season. The Dolphins (7-8) missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.

But Slater knows the unlikely can become reality, just like his career did. The son of Jackie Slater, a tackle who was chosen for the Pro Bowl seven times in his 20-year career, never started a game at UCLA.

``There were times where I wasn't sure'' he would reach the NFL, he said.

The Patriots took a chance, drafting Slater in the fifth round in 2008. In training camp before the 2010 season, he was concerned he might be released.

``I just try to maintain faith and embrace my role over the years, whatever it was, and kind of just found a niche special teams-wise,'' he said. ``It's been a fun ride and, more importantly, it's been fun being a part of a winning organization.''

In his five seasons, the Patriots are 59-20 and never won fewer than 10 games in any of them. He's done his part by leading in special teams tackles in three straight seasons. Now he's just one shy of his career high of 21 set in 2010.

His success, and his recognition by his peers who picked him for the Pro Bowl, has brought unwanted attention.

``There were a couple of times I felt like I was a marked man out there,'' Slater said. Teams ``send a few extra guys your way. You might see a few more double teams. You might encounter a little more smack talk (but) it's hard to just isolate on me because we have so many good players across the board.''

Slater speeds down field on coverage teams. He blocks on returns. He's even the No. 2 kickoff returner behind Devin McCourty.

``He does everything,'' McCourty said. ``When you've got a guy like him that can play almost every position on our special teams units at full speed, 100 mph, he's just so disruptive in everything he does. ... We all follow his lead. However he goes out there and plays is usually how the whole unit will play.''

Not all plays work.

A critical failure came after the Patriots had rallied from a 31-3 deficit to tie San Francisco at 31 on Dec. 16. LaMichael James fielded the kickoff at his goal line and returned it 62 yards. On the next play, Colin Kaepernick threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree and the 49ers went on to win 41-34.

It was a painful lesson to relearn.

``It's a 60-minute ballgame. In our phase of the game at any point in time a play can take place that changes the momentum and the outcome,'' Slater said. ``When we have a mistake on a special teams play, it's a little more glaring and game changing than if somebody misses a block or drops the ball where we could get it on second down, we could get it on third down.

``There is no third down, no fourth down. It's a one-down deal and I think we learned that our urgency and our level of execution need to be there every single play.''

Slater has made enough good plays to be chosen for his second Pro Bowl. He'd just prefer to be traveling to New Orleans while that game is being played in Honolulu on Jan. 27.

``I didn't get to go last year,'' he said with a smile. ``Hopefully, I won't get to go this year.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Steelers will require fans to wear a mask at Heinz Field, should they be allowed

Steelers will require fans to wear a mask at Heinz Field, should they be allowed

If fans are permitted to attend Pittsburgh Steelers home games this fall, there's one item they can't forget: a mask.

Steelers' director of communication, Burt Lauten, explained the decision to require fans to wear a mask in a statement on Tuesday.

"Our goal is to still have fans at Heinz Field this year with the understanding that social distancing, as well as all fans being required to wear masks, will play a role in the capacity to ensure a safe atmosphere," Lauten said, via ESPN. "We will continue to work with the NFL and public health officials to finalize plans for fans to attend our home games."

Pittsburgh was one of the first franchises to alter its ticketing plans this season, as they decided in May to trim half of their individual game ticket sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The news comes just hours after their AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens, announced that M&T Bank Stadium will be capped at less than 14,000 fans this fall, should fans be allowed to attend games.

RELATED: NFL PROPOSED PAY CUT FOR PLAYERS

In June, The Athletic reported that the NFL will not place a limit on capacity at games, allowing each individual team to make the decision themselves.

"Attendance will be a state-by-state, county-by-county thing," an anonymous NFL source told The Athletic. "It will not be a one size fits all."

Additionally, the NFL has said that the first 6-8 rows of lower bowl sections, including field-level suites, will be blocked off this fall to help slow the spread of the virus. Those sections will be covered with tarps, which teams can use to sell advertising, similarly to what the Premier League in England has done.

With training camp still a few weeks away, there are a lot of virus-related questions the NFL must answer beforehand.

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Howard is a finalist for 2021 five-star defensive end Korey Foreman

Howard is a finalist for 2021 five-star defensive end Korey Foreman

The Howard University football program has moved a step closer to landing perhaps its highest-ranked recruit in years, if not ever.

Five-star defensive end Korey Foreman trimmed his college choice to seven on Wednesday evening, and the Howard Bison were on the list. The other six schools were Southern California (USC), LSU, Alabama, Oregon, Clemson, and Georgia.

In Foreman's tweet, he explained why Howard, a historically Black college (HBCU), was included in his list.

"I am a young black man that is happy and proud of my race," he wrote. "The Black Lives Matter movement is and forever will be powerful and definitely never forgotten. These are the schools I will now be focusing on the most. Set the standard and .. be different."

The news comes just a week after the Howard basketball program landed five-star Makur Maker, who chose the Bison over Division I schools UCLA, Kentucky and Memphis. Maker was the highest-ranked recruit Howard basketball has landed in its history. Mikey Williams, a top-five basketball recruit in the 2023 class, has already hinted about potentially playing at an HBCU as well.

Foreman, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound defensive end, is projected to commit to USC, according to 247Sports. Foreman is ranked the No. 2 overall prospect on 247Sports recruiting rankings for the 2021 class.

However, if the last few weeks are any indication, Howard can't be ruled out.

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