The New England Patriots have suffered some demoralizing regular season losses during their still ongoing dynastic run, but Sunday’s 27-24 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins certainly ranks high on that list. Not only did the Patriots play at home against a 16-point underdog that had won just four games heading into the contest, they also were treating it as essentially a playoff matchup with a first-round postseason bye being on the line.
However, the team came out flat on both sides of the ball and eventually surrendered the game-deciding touchdown with under 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Now, the reigning world champions will have to prepare for wild card weekend for the first time since January 2010, and to go the distance if they want to defend their Super Bowl title. Needless to say that it won’t be easy, especially when looking at New England’s performance against Miami.
But despite their tough loss, the Patriots are still trying to turn the page quickly and look ahead at the challenges that await over the next few days and with a game against the sixth-seeded team in the AFC — likely the Tennessee Titans — on the horizon. The chorus that was sung by the players in the locker room and at the podium after Sunday’s defeat was therefore one of cautious optimism and much-needed focus.
“We’ve got a game next week, we’ve got to get ready to go,” said safety Devin McCourty. “Nobody feels sorry for us, we shouldn’t feel sorry for ourselves. Our goal is to play in the playoffs. We’ve got a shot next week at all of that. Disappointed, wanted to play better, wanted to win today, but we didn’t. We’ve got to move forward and get ready to go or the end of our season will be next week if we don’t turn the page and play good football, way better than today.”
“The confidence is never going to go away,” running back Rex Burkhead added. “We know what we have, we know the talent — talent can only take you so far, but we know what we have. We know what we’re capable of. The guys on this team, a lot of them have been through it before so we just have to get that juice back and hopefully we will have a good week of preparation this week.”
New England certainly will need a good week heading into its playoff opener. After the team played arguably its best game of the season in Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills, it came out flat versus Miami and quickly found itself down 10-0 before eventually fighting back into the contest and coming close to pulling out the victory. In the end, however, the Dolphins made more plays and eventually played spoiler to the Patriots’ hopes of earning a first-round bye.
The Patriots know, however, that they have to play with the hand they have been dealt (or, to a certain degree, dealt themselves) as running back James White pointed out during his postgame press conference: “I don’t think it is any more difficult [without the first-round bye]. You just have to go out there and play football. It’s one extra game if you make it to where you want to be. We just have to go out there and play hard.”
“Here in New England we’re a little bit spoiled with having byes yearly,” added special teamer and team captain Matthew Slater. “But look, we’re blessed to be in the playoffs. We should be excited about that. We should look forward to our opportunity and try to seize the opportunity, because the reality is there are guys on this team who may never see the playoffs again for the rest of their careers. So, we need to make this opportunity count.”
“It starts by having a good day tomorrow and trying to stack them together, and the next time we play we can play our best football,” Slater continued. “Certainly it is a different situation, but it is important for us to have the proper perspective. We have been very blessed to have the type of season we have had and being in the playoffs. A lot of teams don’t get that opportunity. Would it have been nice to have the bye? But now we don’t have one.”
As Slater pointed out, the Patriots have been spoiled with success over the last few years. Last year, for example, they earned the second seed in the AFC despite winning one fewer game during the regular season. This year, they enter the playoffs with a 12-4 record but without a first-round bye. Even though the situation is different from 2018 and the eight seasons that preceded it, New England’s focus is on itself and trying to improve heading into do-or-die territory.
“We have to do everything in our power to recover and prepare and be excited about our opportunity. Let’s not mope around and feel sorry for ourselves, we are in the playoffs. Our team has worked hard and we should be appreciative of where we are,” said Slater. “When we leave here today this game is over with: we put it behind us and focus on the next challenge. You can’t allow something like this to stick with you.”
“You never like to lose a game, it is what it is, but I think we need to look forward and embrace our opportunity and make sure we do everything in our power to seize the opportunity that we have and make the most of it,” the 34-year-old continued before speaking about the character of this 2019 Patriots team and how it will be tested with a difficult path to another championship ahead.
“This is a high-character football team, we have a lot of good men on this team,” Slater said. “That’s certainly something that doesn’t get talked about enough. I think the character of the men in this locker room has carried us for a number of years, and it continues to carry us. We’re going to have to fall back on that now and we’ll have to fight. Every team in the playoffs is going to be fighting for the same thing, and we’re no different than anybody else.”