The New England Patriots looked like one of the best teams in the NFL before their Week 14 bye. They had won seven straight games, including high-stakes battles with the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills, and at 9-4 entered their weekend off as the leaders in the AFC East and number one playoff seed in the conference.
Two weeks removed from that bye week, however, they suddenly appear to have more questions than answers. Back-to-back losses have dropped the Patriots down the standings; they now trail Buffalo in the division and have fallen all the way to the sixth spot in the AFC playoff picture.
Sunday’s home loss to the Bills all but guaranteed that they will not retake the AFC East title this year, and at best go on the road on wildcard weekend. Long story short, the Patriots have looked like a different team after their bye — a worse one.
With only two games left in the regular season, New England quickly needs to get back on track. How the team plans to make that happen remains to be seem, but according to safety Devin McCourty there is no one button to push.
“It’s too late in the season not to play your best football and I would say these last two weeks have come down to that,” McCourty said after Sunday’s loss against Buffalo. “We’re playing against teams that are playing the way you’re supposed to be playing late December, but we have to play better.
“I would say both games there’s not one thing that needs to be fixed. It’s overall, everybody just playing a little bit better. Units playing better. We’re not doing that. It’s not like it’s all bad and we’re getting killed, but when we need to make a play we’re not making those plays. It’s just not good enough. We’re starting slow, falling behind, now we’re playing catch-up, and now you have to play perfect, basically, when you’re play a game like that.”
The Patriots know they have not been doing that versus the Indianapolis Colts in Week 15 and the Bills on Sunday. They turned the ball over, failed to make the necessary stops on defense, and simply kept shooting themselves in the foot far too often, as running back Damien Harris put it.
New England lost 27-17 in Indianapolis before a 33-21 defeat versus Buffalo. Now at 9-6, the Patriots are still in a solid position as far as their playoff outlook is concerned. That said, they are well aware that the sloppy play needs to improve quickly or else their long-term outlook will be bleak.
“It hasn’t been good, and it’s up to us as a team for what’s left of the season,” McCourty said. “We’re guaranteed two more games and that’s it. That’s how we have to approach it. That’s the mentality and mindset that we need to have, and if not this season won’t end the way we want.”