Call them repeat offenders. The New England Patriots played the same sloppy brand of football in Week 18 against the Miami Dolphins that had cost them games earlier in the season as well. They turned the football over, made conservative decisions and, just for the thrill of it, threw in some more special teams miscues.
There is time to address issues like those during the regular season, and New England was able to get noticeably better after its 2-4 start. However, time is running out: the playoffs are on the horizon, and this week’s game against the Buffalo Bills is a “win or go home”-type of game already.
Needless to say the Patriots have to turn the page quickly coming off their 33-24 loss to the Dolphins. Head coach Bill Belichick said so himself.
“Obviously played poorly, coached poorly, didn’t do anything very well. Just too many mistakes, way too many,” Belichick said during his postgame press conference. “We’ll go look at the film, turn the page here and make some corrections and move on to next week. That’s really about it.”
Performing at a consistent level has been a challenge for the Patriots recently, with the team proving itself an up-and-down yet streaky bunch. Sunday’s game in Miami was more of the same.
New England had another slow start, trailing 17-0 by the early second quarter, before a late rally that eventually came up short. Losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively, followed the same script: New England dug itself in a hole before fighting its way back only to still lose in the end.
That fight, however, is something to build on heading into the playoffs.
“We’re fighting,” said safety Devin McCourty. “Come to work the next day. You want to put everything into it because if you don’t, that’s it. You know, we have another performance like this, that’s it. As a group, you know, everybody individually, you just want to put your all into it because there’s no tomorrow.”
Running back Brandon Bolden, who had one of the few highlight performances against the Dolphins, expressed a similar mindset.
“It’s not over. There’s no reason to lay down and take anything,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to fight for. And I know, me personally, that’s how I’m approaching it. That’s how I’m going into next week as not finished to be done playing with the season. Going into next week, take it like it could be the last one, but I’m going to fight like hell to have more.”
As opposed to their execution, the Patriots’ fight has never been in question. However, as special teams captain Matthew Slater pointed out, New England has to do more than that to get back on track after ending the regular season with a 1-3 record.
The key word, once more, is execution.
“We’ll have to dig deep and make a decision what does this mean to us,” he said. “I believe it’s important to us. I believe we care about it. But the talking is not what’s going to get it done. It’s going to be execution and playing well whenever we play next.”
McCourty said the same thing.
“You want to be playing your best football. We haven’t,” he said. “We’ve got to turn the page and we’ve got to have a good week of practice and rely on that because we don’t have the three, four weeks in a row of good football to rely on. It hasn’t been our best. But I think if we sit there and say we’ve got no shot because it hasn’t been our best, then we might as well not even show up next week.
“We’ve just got to put our heads down, get to work and go out there and play our best football. We know each Sunday is a different opportunity, kind of any given Sunday. And I think that’s how we’ve got to prepare no matter who we play and go out there and try to get a win.”