The NFL is all about peaking at the right time, something the 2021 New England Patriots were not able to do. Coming out off their Week 14 with a 9-4 record and as the top seed in the AFC playoff picture, they lost three of their last four regular season games to finish at 10-6 and as seed No. 6.
As a result of their post-bye struggles, the Patriots had to travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills in the wild card round. They were blown out 47-17 and had to end their season having lost four out of their five games.
Now heading into a long offseason, the team is left looking for answers. What happened to cause this late-season collapse?
“The season did definitely change after the bye week. I don’t really have a complete answer to what that was,” said safety Adrian Phillips during his end-of-season media conference call earlier this week.
“The main thing that I would say for the defensive side was just we weren’t dominating like we were pre-bye week, and it’s up to us to get that figured out. When we come back from the offseason to do our OTAs and get into training camp I’m pretty sure that’ll be a talking point. We’re going to make sure we don’t let that happen again.”
One of the biggest issues for the Patriots after their bye was starting slowly. The team found itself down multiple scores in all four of its losses.
New England faced a 20-0 deficit in Week 15 against the Indianapolis Colts, fell behind 17-7 to both the Bills and the Miami Dolphins in Weeks 16 and 18, and did not score until down 27-0 on Saturday night in Buffalo. The Patriots came out flat all those weeks, raising questions about their level of intensity and urgency.
For wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, however, the issue goes back to building on the seven-game winning streak that propelled New England to the top of the conference in the first place.
“I feel like our intensity going into the bye was great, and I don’t feel like it dropped off,” he said on Tuesday. “But that’s the problem: it didn’t build up, either. I feel like we still tried to ride the wave as far as what we were doing when we got to the No. 1 spot. We needed to build on that, and we just didn’t do it.”
Phillips shared the same sentiment.
“I definitely feel like the intensity was still there, and I feel like people were preparing the way that we did before the bye week just because we knew what we had to do,” he said. “But, at the same time, it was just one of those things, just an unlucky roll.”
The Patriots peaking too soon was not an isolated incident. The team also dropped off in 2019, ending the regular season 4-4 after a 8-0 start and going one-and-done in the playoffs. Last season, New England had clawed its way back into the playoff conversation but at 6-6 lost three in a row to finish 7-9 and out of the tournament.
For Phillips, the message is clear: stay focused, regardless of how many games there are left in the season.
“We have to make sure that we stay locked in for however long the season is.”