The 2021 New England Patriots are not strangers to facing adversity. Losing four of their first six games of the regular season, they rallied and produced a seven-game winning streak to jump from 2-4 to 9-4 and serious contender status in the AFC.
Since then, however, they have lost back-to-back games: New England was beaten by both the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills, falling from the top spot in both the conference and its division as a result. Heading into the home stretch of the season, the Patriots are therefore faced with more questions than answers now.
For team captain Matthew Slater, however, the focus is on turning the page quickly and being locked in on what lies ahead.
“At this point in time what we have to do is make sure first and foremost that we stick together,” Slater said earlier this week. “There’s a lot going on obviously when you deal with adversity. You want to make sure that there’s no splinter in what you’re doing; no splinter in the locker room, no splinter between the players and the coaches.
“Do you want to keep your head down and stay as positive as you can and just fight through it? We have some choices here. One of the choices is to let this spiral out of control and the other choice is to try to put our feet in the ground, make a stand and fight.”
The Patriots’ games against the Colts and Bills — two of the best teams in the AFC — ended in disappointing fashion in large part because of sloppy play in all three phases. Whether it was turnovers, and inability to make the key stops when needed, or the third blocked punt of the season, New England made the same mistakes it made earlier during the season.
According to Slater, the key is to show the same resiliency now that the team displayed in October. The veteran sounds quite confident in the Patriots’ ability to do just that, though.
“I believe in the character of the men in this locker room. I believe that we will fight no matter the circumstances. Even though we’re being faced with some adversity right now, that’s the choice we’re going to make. But it’s not going to be an easy choice,” he said.
“We experienced this early on in the season, it’s going to require a lot of tough decisions, a lot of tough football and it’s going to be hard. That’s just the reality of football in the NFL during this time of year.”
At 9-6, the Patriots are currently the number six playoff seed in the conference. They still very much control their destiny as far as making the postseason tournament is concerned, even though they need outside help to win the AFC East: wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins in Weeks 17 and 18 guarantee New England will be part of the playoffs.
Before that happens, though, the team needs to take care of business and show some short memory after two bad games.
“We still have an opportunity to accomplish the things that we set out to accomplish at the beginning of the season, but it’s not going to be something that just happens,” Slater said. “It’s not going to be simple for us. I hope and believe that we’ll handle it the right way and respond with some toughness and some resolve and we’ll see where that gets us at the end of the day.”