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Slater's Pats still chasing dad's Rams.

Byline: Rich Garven

The Patriots have wrapped up the AFC East title for the sixth straight season. That's one shy of the NFL record for divisional dominance held by the Los Angeles Rams, who won the NFC West seven consecutive years starting in 1973.

Different coasts, different conferences and different decades. And, yet, there's a connection.

Jackie Slater was the starting left tackle for those Rams. His son, Matthew, is the special teams captain for these Patriots.

The younger Slater, who was born in 1985 -- 10 years before his Pro Football Hall of Fame dad retired -- is well versed in Rams' lore, but wasn't aware of their first-place run until the other day.

"How about that?'' Slater said. "They had a tremendous group of guys there. They had countless Hall of Famers, Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and the list goes on. That team, that era, the only thing that's sad is that they never got a chance to win a championship, and I know that's one of the things that my dad kind of looks back on his career and wishes he had done.

"So I didn't even know that stat until you told me that. I'm going to have to give him a little (playful) grief. I'll have to give dad a little grief, let him know we're breathing down his neck.''

Jackie Slater, who spent his entire career with the Rams, played in one Super Bowl, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19, in 1979. Matthew, who was drafted by the Patriots in 2008, has also played in one, losing to the New York Giants, 21-17, in 2011.

The Patriots have won the AFC East 12 of the past 14 years. They finished second the other two seasons, to the New York Jets in 2002 and the Miami Dolphins in '08, but only on a tiebreaker each time.

So the Patriots have at least tied for the best record in the division for an amazing 14 years.

"That comes down to three people in my mind,'' Slater said before citing the terrific trio of owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

Connolly questionable

Starting left guard Dan Connolly left last Sunday's win over the Dolphins and didn't return with what the team said was a neck injury.

The ninth-year pro was limited in practice all week, first with an ankle injury and then with a shoulder injury. He's considered questionable (50-50 odds) to play today against the New York Jets.

Connolly has missed one game this season, against the Jets in Week 7, with a concussion. If he can't go today or starts but is unable to finish, Josh Kline figures to get the call.

Kline will be ready, as was the case when he replaced Connolly in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins.

"You get up to speed throughout the week,'' Kline said. "You always have to be ready for any situation that might come up -- if somebody goes down or they just throw you in there. You just always have to be prepared and you always have to be ready when you're number is called.''

The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Kline, who made the Patriots as an undrafted rookie out of Kent State last season, stood up well against Miami's impact pass rushers.

He'll need a repeat performance if called upon again as the Jets feature one of the best defensive lines in football with end Muhammad Wilkerson, nose tackle Damon "Snacks'' Harrison and tackle Sheldon Richardson.

"It wasn't perfect,'' Kline said of his Miami moment. "I held my own for the most part, but I have some things to work on. Anything I can do to help out the team and get a victory like we did last week.''

Inside the lines

Some quick hits and (hopefully) useful numbers with regard to this week's games: The over is 9-1 (.900) in the last 10 meetings between the Patriots and Jets. The Patriots are 3-7 (.300) against the number in their last 10 games as road favorites. The Jets are 5-2 (.714) against the number in their last seven games as home underdogs. .... The Lions defeated the Bears by two points last season to end an eight-year losing streak in Chicago. ... The Ravens are 4-1 (.800) against the Texans since 2011, winning by 6, 15, 7, and 21 points. ... The Dolphins are 1-13 (.072) against the number in their last 14 games when favored by six-plus points at home. ... Eight of the last 10 meetings between the Saints and Falcons have been decided by six points or less. ... The over is 9-1 (.900) in the Steelers' last 10 home games. The Chiefs are 11-5 (.688) against the number in their last 16 road games. ... The Rams haven't allowed a touchdown in three straight games. ... The over is 9-1 (.900) in the Colts' last 10 road games vs. the NFC. The Cowboys are 7-22 (.241) against the number in their last 29 games as a home favorite and 7-17 (.292) against the number in their last 20 coming off a win, ... The over is 13-2 (.867) on "Sunday Night Football'' this season. ... The Bengals are 2-13 (.133) in their last 15 prime time appearances. The Broncos have won 26 games since the start of last season. Twenty-four were by at least a touchdown.

Fourth and one

Some random thoughts in no particular order:

The Baltimore Ravens are the last team the Patriots want to face in the playoffs. Same goes for the Denver Broncos. The Ravens eliminated the Patriots in 2009 and both the Broncos and Patriots in 2012. They might have KO'd the Patriots in 2011 if not for Bill Cundiff's missed chip shot.

Patriots center Bryan Stork won the BCS national championship with Florida State as a senior last season. Now he has an opportunity to win the Super Bowl as a rookie. Tony Dorsett (University of Pittsburgh/Dallas Cowboys 1976-77) is believed to be the first player to accomplish the college/NFL double.

Like so many pros before him, Julian Edelman conveniently had a breakout season in a contract year. Unlike so many pros before him, Edelman hasn't regressed after being richly rewarded (4 years, $17 million). He's eight catches and 28 yards shy of reaching 100 and 1,000 for the second straight season.

The Broncos (AFC West) and Colts (AFC South) have clinched division titles and either the Packers or Lions will win the NFC North. The Bengals are in first place in the AFC North. The Patriots went 4-1 against those fab five, including making pretty good Lions and Bengals teams look awfully bad.

May your Christmas be merry, your Hanukkah be happy and your Festivus be frivolous.

Material used in this report was collected from personal interviews, wire services, websites, and league and team sources. Contact Rich Garven at rgarven@telegram.com.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Garven, Rich
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 21, 2014
Words:1142
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