The New England Patriots had plenty of momentum on their side coming off back-to-back wins over the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens that improved their record to 4-5. Going against a 2-7 Houston Texans team in Week 11 that seemed to match up well with them on both sides of the ball, they also found themselves with a prime opportunity to get to .500 again and right back into the playoff hunt.
What followed, though, was a 27-20 defeat — one that saw the Patriots struggle mightily on defense and once again not come through in the clutch on offense. Add what appears to be a season-ending injury suffered by reliable running back Rex Burkhead and you get a day that can best be summed up in one word: disappointment.
To make matters worse, New England’s hopes at making the playoffs also took another hit in Houston. They were already rather slim to begin with given that the Patriots entered Week 11 as just the 10th team in the AFC’s postseason race, but another lost week has hurt their chances of sneaking into the tournament as a wild card contender — let alone of winning the division for a 12th year in a row — even further.
Bill Belichick’s team had a 20 percent chance of earning one of the seven playoff spots heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Texans, according to FiveThirtyEight. The loss in Houston, however, has now led to that number falling down to 7 percent. The odds of the Patriots defending their AFC East title, meanwhile, are only of theoretical nature at this point in time: they decreased from 6 percent to 2 percent.
Those numbers were certainly on nobody’s mind inside the locker room after the game, however. Accordingly, the Patriots’ course and rallying cry will remain unchanged: try to get better every week, as team captain Devin McCourty noted after the game.
“It is what it is,” he said during his postgame media conference call when talking about his team’s lackluster performance after two straight victories. “Momentum really doesn’t matter in this league. It’s executing and going to win the next week. I think we’ve been building, we’ve been getting better at it. It shows with not a perfect game, not just an all-out terrible game, but when you don’t execute well enough or make a couple more plays, then you fall short like this.
“I would say a lot of our season has really kind of been like that. We just have to keep fighting and try to get over that hill each week that we get out here and get in these close games. We were able to execute it last week for a seven-point win, and this week we fell short and lose by seven.”
Cam Newton, who had a solid overall game but failed to orchestrate a come-from-behind win in the fourth quarter, sang a similar tune.
“The only reason why you do play is to win,” said the Patriots’ starting quarterback. “For us, we’ve just got to play better offensively, myself included. Accept challenges from where they come. Our defense did give us an opportunity at the end, holding them to a field goal. We’ve just got to keep, keep, keep thriving on becoming the best team that we can possible be.”
What that best version of the Patriots looks like is anybody’s guess 10 games into the regular season. The one that beat the Baltimore Ravens one week ago appeared to come pretty close, but then the team failed to build on that victory in Houston. And so, New England’s playoff window was closed a little bit more on Sunday.
To keep it ajar, the team will need another quick turnaround and to finally become the best version of itself. The one that looked lost against the Texans, especially on defense, certainly is not it.